Week of March 13, 2020

Coronavirus Plagues America

 For the first time in living history, the headlines after a major presidential primary night weren’t focused on the election.  Instead, they were focused on the coronavirus and its spread across the nation.

Even the election news focused on the fact that both Biden and Sanders were cancelling their post-primary rallies due to the coronavirus.

The American mood is certainly schizophrenic.  While airplanes fly nearly empty as Americans are afraid of coming in contact with someone with the corona virus, they are willing to wait in line and crowd in cheek to jowl with others at grocery stores and warehouse clubs in order to buy toilet paper, sanitary supplies, water, and freeze dried food.

Although the US was slow in taking the virus seriously, they have reacted quickly in the last few days.  Several states have declared States of Emergency.  New York governor Cuomo called in the National Guard to police the New Rochelle area, which is the hot spot of corona virus infection on the East Coast.

President Trump after a dismissive attitude of the seriousness of the situation, came out Wednesday with a program of health and economic incentives to battle the epidemic.  Although his speech was intended to assure the American public, he created confusion regarding some of the elements about banning travel from Europe and how the Americans will deal with testing…

However, there are a lot of problems in fighting this infection.  Since many who get the virus don’t show any symptoms (or very mild ones), health officials don’t really know the extent of the infection or how serious it really is.  For instance, an infected person with mild or no symptoms can pass it on to another person, who can develop a serious condition that can lead to death.  Consequently, no one really knows the real situation, which leads to predictions that are probably more too pessimistic.

On the other hand, there are doctors who remain optimistic based on research on the virus and how it interacts with humans.

One positive is that studies are showing that the virus is most effective at 47.7 degrees Fahrenheit.  At temperatures above that, it’s ability to spread decreases dramatically.  One proof of that is that all the major hot spots in the US are in colder states.  Warmer, drier states like Arizona have patients with the Corona virus, but it hasn’t spread throughout the community like it has in Washington State, Northern California, New York, and Boston. 

This temperature weakness of the virus means that as summer approaches, the chances are good that new cases will decline, giving scientists a chance to discover a way to fight it before the winter cold returns.

In the meantime, the virus will have an impact of America’s economy, social interaction, stability, and even the presidential election in November.



Although the world has lost trillions of dollars in the world’s stock markets, much of that loss was do as much to the fact that stock prices were overvalued in the first place. 

The biggest economic problem from the infection is production and consumer buying.  With the corona virus ability to spread, many factories are closing in order limit the threat.  Factories that aren’t producing aren’t selling to consumers.  They aren’t paying their employees or suppliers either.

There is also consumer demand.  With a population afraid to go out, brick and mortar stores are experiencing a decline in sales – unless they sell toilet paper, water, and sanitary supplies.

There is an upside for some sectors of the economy.  As the population stays inside, they will probably increase their buying online.  Businesses like Amazon should experience growth as more consumers rely on products that are delivered directly to them.  In addition, many grocery store chains are also taking orders online and then delivering to homes.

Some companies that sell emergency food supplies have seen their business skyrocket.  Companies that produce freeze dried foods or military rations for emergencies are working overtime to meet demand.

Companies that rely upon energy will do well, providing they have consumers buying their product or service.  The mining industry is very energy reliant, but with slowing global demand for minerals and metals, they will see lower earnings in the upcoming quarters.  With the decline in traveling and the oil war between Saudi Arabia and Russia, oil prices are expected to remain low, which will hurt the American petroleum sector. 

Normally, low oil prices benefit the airlines.  However, with the Corona virus scare, many airlines are flying nearly empty aircraft.  Although lower ticket prices may tempt some customers, the airlines are in for a bad time.

One benefit for the US economy in the long run may be a return of some manufacturing to the US from China.  Shortages in pharmaceuticals, rare earths, and electronics are encouraging some companies to rethink their strategy of subcontracting to China.  In fact, there is talk that President Trump may invoke his presidential powers to bring back pharmaceutical production of masks, antibiotics, medicines, etc. to the US.



One only had to look at the fights breaking out over the last package of toilet paper on the shelves to see how the panic is impacting Americans.  The “everyone for themselves” mentality is breaking out across the nation.

This wouldn’t be so bad normally, but in a society already fractured by racial, political, economic, and gender lines, it is only exacerbating the fissures already in American society.

We can add to that a geographical divide as most of the corona illness is on the predominantly Democratic coastlines.

Should the pandemic grow and there becomes a refugee flow from the Democratic coastlines to the interior and warmer south, which are more Republican, there could be calls for quarantines to keep people out of these states – especially if there are instances of them bringing the corona virus with them

Another issue is Americans’ basic human rights and the medical battle against the epidemic.  Although quarantines have been instituted in the US in the past, this could potentially be the biggest quarantine in American history.  How will Americans feel about military forces patrolling the street like they are doing in New Rochelle, New York?  How will they react to orders limiting their travel?

These may seem to be minor issues, but in a society that fights over toilet paper, what can happen is anyone’s guess.



Ever since the coronavirus struck, some who have have wondered how this might impact the presidential election.  Many think that Trump could lose the election as he will be too weak to effectively govern.

As we have noted in the past, a week is an eternity in politics.  Consequently, there is no way to predict what will happen in November.

Although Democrats are already blaming Trump for the problem, Trump’s poll numbers are currently at an acceptable range compared to previous presidents.  There is also the fact that America is not currently experiencing the coronavirus deaths that have occurred in other countries Italy, Iran, and China are having.

There’s also the fact that nothing makes a president more presidential than going on national TV and announcing his plans.  Obama did it when U.S. Special Forces killed Osama bin Laden and his poll numbers jumped.  Trump did that on Wednesday as he outlined the economic and other steps the government would take.  These include a ban on travel from Europe (except for Britain) for the next 30 days, with the exception of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, and proposed economic measures to help businesses and people facing an economic impact from the virus.

One step was to eliminate the health insurance co-pays and completely cover coronavirus treatment.  This should encourage people to get treatment earlier. But  many observers echoed what a CNN political analyst observed:  “President Donald Trump set out to steady a rattled nation and a diving economy in a solemn Oval Office address, but instead sowed more confusion and doubts that he is up to handling the fast-worsening coronavirus crisis”.

“Trump spoke to the nation at a fearful moment, when the rhythms of everyday American life are starting to shut down — with schools closing, the NBA suspended, hospitals on high alert and movie icon Tom Hanks saying he and his wife have the disease”.

The White House also is preparing an executive order that would eliminate U.S. government reliance on foreign made medical supplies.  The order covers 400 “essential medicines” and medical countermeasures and aims to attract more medical jobs to the United States.

All these moves might help Trump look presidential.

If the virus slows down as summer temperatures arrive, the coronavirus issue could be gone long before the election.  Since it takes a few months, the start of the 2020/2021 flu season will not be in full swing when the election is held.

The biggest impact may be economic.  If voters view the economy pessimistically and think conditions will get worse before getting better, they will be more likely to vote Democratic.

One mixed blessing for Trump is the decline in the markets.  That limits a downturn in the days before the election, which hurt Senator McCain, who was leading Obama before the stock market crash in 2008.  It also means that stocks may experience a bull market this fall, which will only help Trump.

However, it’s important to remember that the world is experiencing an unusual event.  Although we have seen pandemics, they haven’t been as contagious and have been limited geographically.  We are truly in unknown territory.

Week of March 06, 2020

Think Tanks Activity Summary
(For further details, scroll down to the PUBLICATIONS section)

The Heritage Foundation looks at the peace deal for Afghanistan.  They note, “most importantly, talks within Afghanistan between the government and the Taliban will take place March 10.  This is the most crucial stage in the peace process. It does not matter what the U.S. agrees to with the Taliban; what matters most is what the Afghan government agrees to with the Taliban.  Many questions remain unanswered. And healthy skepticism is only natural under circumstances like this.  But ultimately it is for all Afghans—those who support the government in Kabul and those who identify as Taliban—to settle their differences. The Afghan government has been fighting a Taliban-led insurgency. History shows that most insurgencies are successfully ended through a political settlement. After all, the most basic goal of any counterinsurgency campaign is to allow those who have political grievances the ability to express these grievances through a political process rather than through violence. This is the goal of the intra-Afghan talks. You no more can kill your way out of an insurgency than you can drink yourself out of alcoholism.” 


The CSIS has a skeptical view of the Afghan agreement.  They note, “As has been noted in a previous Burke Chair analysis, far too many of the steps proposed to date are reminiscent of the U.S. failures in Vietnam. They ignore the current state of Afghan forces, the lack of unity within the Afghan government, Afghan dependence on outside aid, massive problems within the Afghan economy, and the quality of Afghan governance… Most of the media’s reaction to the announcement of a peace process agreement ignores a wide range of these issues and has only focused on the immediate military implications of the agreement to enter negotiations. This commentary focuses on the three critical limits in the official reporting and media coverage of these military developments: 1. Underestimating the real size of U.S. forces in (and for) Afghanistan. 2.Ignoring the critical role of forward train and assist forces and airpower. 3.Failing to examine the importance of the role played by our allies.”


The Cato Institute also looks at the Afghan agreement.  They conclude, “If the Trump administration is truly making U.S. withdrawal contingent on the Taliban and Kabul successfully signing a powersharing peace agreement, it could very well be the death knell for the deal. We are already seeing cracks: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said on Sunday that he rejects the idea of a TalibanKabul prisoner swap, which is supposed to be carried out by March 10. He said the United States was in no position to make that promise on his behalf. Even as America announces her impending withdrawal from Afghanistan, she still helplessly clings to the very fantasies that have kept her bogged down in this quagmire for nearly 20 years. We have not remade Afghan politics. We have not established a stable, democratic, independent government in Kabul. We have not defeated the Taliban. But that does not vitiate the wisdom of withdrawal. After nearly 20 years, $2 trillion, and an immense loss of life, it is now a vital national interest to end the war. But if the war doesn’t end within 14 months, exiting the war should be the priority, regardless of conditions on the ground.”


The American Foreign Policy Council says America should declare war on proxies.  They note, “Countries around the world are increasingly realizing that the most convenient way to occupy foreign territories is to set up a proxy with the ceremonial trappings of a state, including governments, parliaments, and flags. Why go through all that trouble? Because the norms of the liberal international order, which outlaw changing boundaries by force, risk leading to sanctions for the perpetrator state. Creating a proxy regime generates a convenient falsehood that obfuscates reality and helps states evade such consequences. The most systematic user of this tactic is Russia. Since the early 1990s, it has manipulated ethnic conflicts in three different states and helped set up nominally independent entities over which it exerts control. Moscow’s practice began in Moldova’s Transnistria region and in two breakaway territories of Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia…Following its 2008 war with Georgia, Russia established permanent military bases in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and formally recognized the independence of the two territories. This allowed Moscow to create a fictive legal basis for its military presence, based on so-called interstate agreements it signed with its proxies.”





Super Tuesday Election Results Shake Up Democratic Nomination Race

There is an old political adage that says, “a week is an eternity in politics.”  That adage was no truer than this week.  A week ago, Vice President Biden’s bid for the Democratic presidential nomination seemed dead.  His showings in the New Hampshire primary and the Iowa and Nevada caucuses were dismal.  Major Democratic donors were sitting on the sidelines, which left the Biden campaign without the money to contest important states like Texas.  And, his verbal gaffs on the campaign circuit created questions about his ability to mentally handle the office of president.

All that changed in the last few days.

On Saturday, Biden won the South Carolina primary thanks to overwhelming Black support.  Within a day, candidates Buttigieg and Klobuchar had pulled out of the race and had endorsed Biden – followed by several other prominent Democratic politicians like Beto O’Rourke.

The momentum of the weekend led to a surprising win in the Super Tuesday primary elections.  As of this writing, although Biden hasn’t sewn up the nomination, he is leading by a comfortable margin and has over 50% of the delegates pledged.

That win was followed on Wednesday by the withdrawal of candidate Bloomberg, who endorsed Biden.  On Thursday, Warren pulled out.

Although Biden doesn’t have the 1991 delegates to guarantee a first ballot win at the convention, his road to the nomination seems much clearer.  With only Sanders to seriously contest the nomination, the chances of a “brokered” convention are nearly impossible.  And, even if the convention is brokered and Biden doesn’t win on the first ballot, he is nearly assured victory in the second ballot by the super delegates who overwhelmingly support Biden.

The upcoming primaries don’t provide much hope for Sanders to overcome Biden’s lead.  The March 10, primaries are in Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, and Washington.  Of those, only Washington and maybe Michigan appear to be in the Sanders column.  The rest are probably going for Biden.

On the positive side for Sanders, the upcoming states holding primaries has more – White and more Hispanic – groups that did give Sanders more support

If Sanders can stop Biden’s momentum on March 10, the March 17th primaries of Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio may help get him back in the race.  However, with the democratic rules that split up the delegates according to the percentage of support each candidate gets, Sanders must manage to get some major wins in order to overcome Biden’s lead in delegates.

Sander’s problem is that there aren’t any other serious candidates that can siphon off votes from Biden.  And, he needs another viable candidate in the race in order to create a brokered convention.

Although the primary season goes into June, it’s possible that the eventual winner will be clear by the end of March.


Senator Bernie Sanders

Although Biden’s comeback was the big story coming out of Super Tuesday, the Democratic leadership who backed Biden can’t afford to ignore Sanders.  Sanders did win the biggest prize, California.  He also earned enough votes to win delegates in every state that Biden won – even though Senator Warren siphoned votes from him. 

Biden can’t expect a victory like Super Tuesday every week.  Super Tuesday had a preponderance of Southern states (the old Confederacy) that are more conservative and less likely to support Sanders.

There is also the fact that the upcoming primaries have more Whites and Hispanics, which are more likely to vote for Sanders.  The problem is that the demographics of the likely voter in the upcoming primary states probably will not be enough to overcome the current Biden lead.

But it isn’t just the nomination that is on the line.  The race also reflects the great divide in the Democratic Party and its future.  Currently, control of the party is in the hands of more moderate establishment Democrats.  They want Biden to win the nomination at all costs, just as they wanted Hillary Clinton to win the nomination in 2016.

The Democratic leadership is concerned that a more radical presidential candidate like Sanders would hurt the party in local elections as well as the US Senate and US House.  In their mind, it’s better to lose the White House with a moderate candidate yet, retain its majority in the House.

However, there is a sizable minority in the Democratic Party that envisions a more democratic socialist Democratic Party like those in Europe.  They also want to overthrow the establishment Democrats that currently run the party.  And, Biden’s win will not mend that divide.

Therefore, it’s possible that Biden may come to the Democratic convention with enough votes to win the nomination on the first ballot, but face an upset minority that supports Sanders and feels that the nomination was taken from their candidate, as it was in 2016.  These Sanders voters may decide to stay home in November and hope that they can take over party leadership with a new generation of politicians like New York Congresswoman Cortez.

In other words, while this is probably Sanders last run for president, it isn’t the last time that democratic socialists will be heard from.


Michael Bloomberg

Although Bloomberg pulled out of the race on Wednesday, he has won one distinction – howbeit a humiliating one.  He has beaten John Connally for the distinction of spending the most money for fewest delegates.  Former Texas governor Connally had spent $11 million for one delegate in the 1980 Republican primary.  As of the time of this writing, Bloomberg had won 50 delegates after spending $700 million (the delegate count should give Bloomberg more delegates in the next few days).

Bloomberg had misread the Trump victory in 2016.  He assumed that a large personal fortune that could be spent on the campaign would insure victory.  As a result, he saturated the airwaves, including the expensive California market, with commercials for the last month. 

But he had little to show for it but the victory in the small American Pacific territory of American Samoa.  He had forgotten that a candidate needs an agenda in addition to media coverage.

It also helps to make a good impression in the debates.  Bloomberg, however made a poor impression on the debate stage as the other candidates ganged up to attack him.

Although Bloomberg is out of the race, he is expected to remain active, using his personal fortune to help defeat Trump. 

Although the Bloomberg money will help the Democrats this year, it is offset by the lack of donations to the Democratic National Committee this year.  There is also the fact that Americans don’t like the idea of anyone “buying” the election.  Consequently, Bloomberg may waste hundreds of millions of dollars more in a vain attempt to defeat Trump in November.


Senator Elizabeth Warren

Warren has pulled out of the race, thanks to a poor performance across the nation, including her home state of Massachusetts, where she lost to Biden.  The reality, however, is that Warren had no path to victory. 

Warren did poorly with demographic groups that she counted upon.  Exit polls showed that only 1 in 10 women in Massachusetts voted for her and only 1 in 5 college educated Whites in the state supported her.

Her future, post campaign, is uncertain.  As a woman, she would be a logical VP choice for Biden and may help bring pro-Sanders democratic socialists back into the Democratic Party camp.


The Future

As we noted at the beginning, a week is an eternity in politics.  That means that any attempt to analyze the future may prove wrong within a week.

Assuming Biden retains his lead in delegates, he will be the nominee – either on the first or second ballot.  However, his victory may not bring about a Democratic victory in November.

There are questions about Biden, his son, and corruption in the Ukraine – an issue that came up in the Trump impeachment proceedings.  In fact, the Ukraine has started a criminal corruption investigation into the circumstances surrounding Biden’s involvement in stopping an investigation into his son’s action.  There is also the possibility of a Senate investigation.

There is also the question of Biden’s suitability as a presidential candidate.  As the former Vice President, Biden should have sewn up the nomination months ago.  However, his missteps on the campaign trail have worried many in the Democratic Party.  During campaign stops he has often forgotten what state he is in and what office he is running for.  As a result, many observers think that he may be showing signs of mental degeneration.

This placed the Democratic leadership on the horns of a dilemma.  Do you support a moderate, establishment candidate like Biden, even though he may lose the election, but will keep the establishment Democratic leadership in power?  Or, do you support someone who will be a better campaigner, but is outside the establishment.

Picking an outsider for the nominee is a threat to the leadership.  Someone like Sanders will oust many current Democratic leaders and install his own supporters if he wins the nomination.

On the other hand, Biden has made it clear that he is sticking with the status quo and political leaders like Speaker of the House Pelosi.

There are also troubling signs that the Democratic majority in the House may be in jeopardy – another reason to back Biden.  The California congressional primaries on Tuesday showed that Republican voters in Republican congressional districts that had flipped Democratic in 2018 outnumbered Democratic voters, even though there was no Republican presidential primary. 

Traditionally, a Democratic presidential primary, with no Republican presidential primary will see Democratic voters outnumber Republican ones.  The fact that Republican voters outnumbered Democratic voters, means that nine California congressional seats could flip to the Republican side in November – about half the number needed to turn the House Republican.

While a Biden candidacy may help the Democrats in the House, there is also the issue of Biden’s mental condition.  If he is elected and his mental condition continues to decline, there is a chance that a move to oust him by using the 25th Amendment may take place.  In that case, the choice of a vice presidential nominee at the Democratic Convention may be critical.

Normally, VP choices are made to “balance” the ticket.  Biden may want a more democratic socialist VP – preferably one that is a woman and a minority.  Senator Kamala Harris of California would be a choice that might energize women voters and Blacks, although she is from the strongly Democratic state of California.  Senator Warren of Massachusetts could also be a possibility.  Both would also help pacify the democratic socialist wing of the party too.

Both women, however, would not be the favorite VP candidate for the Democratic Party establishment, which sees both of them as far left outsiders like Sanders.  If one of them succeeds Biden as president, they will likely replace the current Democratic leadership.

A more logical choice for a VP that could take over for Biden and retain the current Democratic leadership might be a Democratic governor from a state that Biden needs to win in November.  He could take a more active role in a Biden Administration and be a good successor if the 25th Amendment is used.

What this means is that the race for the Democratic nomination is hardly over.  Does the party want someone who can win the White House in November?  Does the party want to allow more of a say for democratic socialists in the party, although it may cause the party to lose seats in the House of Representatives?  Or does the party leadership want to retain its power?

All of these are questions that must be answered by the end of the Democratic Convention in July.



U.S., Taliban Sign Peace Deal for Afghanistan

By Luke Coffey

Heritage Foundation

Feb 29, 2020

A U.S. special envoy and a senior Taliban representative signed an agreement Saturday in Doha, Qatar, that aims to be the first step to bring peace to Afghanistan and allow U.S. troops to come home. In the seven days leading up to the signing ceremony, violence by all sides in Afghanistan had dropped. While there were some attacks, the overall trajectory and levels of violence were reduced drastically. After concluding that the reduction in violence was satisfactory, President Donald Trump gave the green light for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to accept the deal, which comes more than 18 years after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Pompeo was present in Doha as U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban co-founder and chief negotiator Abdul Ghani Baradar signed the agreement that resulted from more than a year of on-and-off formal talks. Among those also present were the foreign ministers of Turkey and Pakistan. This is a first step in what will be a long, drawn-out process. The Afghan people want peace, having known some form of war since 1979. 

Read more at:




Ending the War in Afghanistan vs Exiting It

By John Glaser

Cato Institute

March 2, 2020

The Trump administration has signed an interim deal with the Taliban to end the war in Afghanistan. The basic contours of the deal are as follows: the Taliban agree to not allow alQaeda or any other group to use Afghan territory to conduct international terrorism against the United States or its allies, and in return the United States will withdraw its military forces from the country. Within 135 days, the Trump administration will reduce the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan from approximately 13,000 today to 8,600. The remainder will be withdrawn within 14 months, contingent on the Taliban’s fulfillment of its side of the bargain, which includes a prisoner exchange, verifying that it is taking measures against foreign terrorist groups on Afghan soil, and starting intraAfghan negotiations with the U.S.-backed regime in Kabul.  The good news is that we have never been this close to ending the war. 

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Afghanistan at Peace or Afghanistan in Pieces – Part One: The First Phase

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

March 3, 2020 

In fairness, Secretary Pompeo made it clear when he announced the first steps towards a peace agreement that, “the United States has secured separate commitments from the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban to hold negotiations for peace.” He made no reference to a full peace plan with any major details. Currently, however, far too much of the coverage given to his announcement has focused on the conditions which allowed the start of such negotiations – as if they provided a coherent plan for the future. As has been noted in a previous Burke Chair analysis, far too many of the steps proposed to date are reminiscent of the U.S. failures in Vietnam. They ignore the current state of Afghan forces, the lack of unity within the Afghan government, Afghan dependence on outside aid, massive problems within the Afghan economy, and the quality of Afghan governance. This previous analysis, entitled, Afghanistan: “Peace” as the Vietnamization of a U.S. Withdrawal?

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The United States Needs to Declare War on Proxies

By Svante E. Cornell and Brenda Shaffer

American Foreign Policy Council

February 27, 2020 

There has been no shortage of debate about the killing of Iranian military commander Qassem Suleimani and its effects on U.S. foreign policy toward Iran and the broader Middle East. Not nearly enough has been said about whether it can broadly serve as a model for dealing with the problems posed by proxy forces elsewhere in the world. By killing Suleimani, the United States indicated it would no longer tolerate Iran’s use of proxies to circumvent its responsibility for killing Americans and for other acts of terrorism and mass bloodshed. Washington decided to deal with the source of the terrorism, not its emissaries. The same principle should apply to the many proxy regimes established by various states—Russia most prominently—to circumvent responsibility for illegal military occupations. Countries around the world are increasingly realizing that the most convenient way to occupy foreign territories is to set up a proxy with the ceremonial trappings of a state, including governments, parliaments, and flags. Why go through all that trouble? Because the norms of the liberal international order, which outlaw changing boundaries by force, risk leading to sanctions for the perpetrator state. Creating a proxy regime generates a convenient falsehood that obfuscates reality and helps states evade such consequences.

Read more at:


Week of February 28, 2020

Trump firing of Key Administration Officials – What Does it Mean?


Since President Trump was acquitted by the US Senate, he has been firing government officials.  These include the withdrawing of Jessie Liu’s name from a top Treasury position, firing the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy John Rood, and pushing about 200 people out of the National Security Council.  And the word is that many more are expected to be push aside in the coming months.


In addition to pushing out anti-Trump officials, it appears that there is a pro-Trump list that has names of people loyal to Trump that will be named to fill these positions.  It is rumored that one of the people compiling these lists is Ginni Thomas, wife of conservative Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas.


There are several questions that these moves raise: are Trump’s actions legal, why is Trump doing this, and what policy implications will come out of the new order?


The US Constitution makes the Executive Branch of the government a singular entity.  In other words, all executive power resides in the president.  Those people under him merely act in his behalf.  So, the Secretary of State merely uses the authority of the president to carry out the foreign policy that the president wants to pursue.  If he fails to carry out that policy or refuses to carry it out, he can be summarily fired.  And, since he “serves at the pleasure of the president,” he can be relieved of his position for no reason at all.


This power to fire isn’t limited to Cabinet members.  It also extends to high administration officials, heads of government departments inside the executive branch like the FBI, ambassadors, and commissioned officers of the US military.


However,  the right of presidents to summarily fire officials has been a bone of contention in the past.  In fact, ironically the first impeachment, of President Andrew Johnson, was for firing a Cabinet official. 


In 1868, President Johnson fired Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, which caused the same type of uproar that the firing of FBI Director Comey did in 2017.  Johnson was impeached for violating the Tenure of Office Act, which was passed specifically to protect Stanton.  Johnson was eventually acquitted.


Over 50 years later, the US Supreme Court ruled (Myers v. United States) that the president has the power to remove senior people without congressional approval.  The majority opinion stated, “The Tenure of Office Act of 1867, insofar as it attempted to prevent the President from removing executive officers who had been appointed by him and with the advice and consent of the Senate was invalid.”


Consequently, although the Democrats are condemning Trump for his actions, he has the law, the Constitution, and the Supreme Court on his side.


Although Trump has the authority, what is the reason for his actions?


Unlike others who won the presidency, he had no cadre of political allies he could appoint to office.  Since he wasn’t a politician, he hadn’t collected a group of loyal politicians and bureaucrats that he could use to fill the administration.  Consequently, he relied on other Republicans (who were once opposed to Trump) and former Obama officials.


The problem was that these officials had policy goals far different than those of Trump and those who voted for him.  In many cases, they ignored his orders, leaked damaging information to the press, and worked to continue the policies of the past.  One example was National Security Advisor John Bolton, who was a Republican, but whose foreign policies were more interventionist than Trump’s.


The same is true of the 200 NSC officials sent back to their original departments.  In most cases, they had been brought onboard by Obama and tended to continue his policies.  The result of this action is that now NSC advice will more closely reflect Trump’s desires.


One of the most senior firings was Pentagon policy official John Rood who had frequently been accused of slowing down Trump policy, while implementing policy that Trump disagreed with.  Rood was also reluctant to provide the White House with a plan to withdraw troops from Syria.  In addition, he didn’t pressure South Korea or Japan to pick up more of the cost of stationing troops there – a Trump priority.  He also stonewalled the appointment of pro-Trump people and preferred to leave the positions vacant.


Trump also fired the entire White House Presidential Office staff, which is responsible for administration appointments.  Several members of the staff were anti-Trump and it was preventing pro-Trump appointments.


Now that Trump is free of the impeachment charges and is starting to look forward to a second term, he is interested in cleaning out the bureaucracy (called the Swamp by Trump and the Deep State by others).  That means discovering who has opposed his agenda and targeting them for firing.  It also means finding Republicans who approve of Trump’s policies that he can insert into the administration.


However, that isn’t as easy as it sounds.  Even pro-Trump officials become advocates of the departments they head and try to protect the members of their departments.


One example is the Department of Justice and the FBI.  Although the Inspector General and the federal courts have found major problems with the FBI’s handling of FISA warrants and have recommended major changes, Attorney General Barr has joined the DOJ and FBI in order to minimize any corrective actions.  And, although Barr’s actions have proved him to be a pro-Trump Cabinet official, he has sided with his department to protect officials and fight the publication of embarrassing documents.


Barr is fenced in.  If he carries out the cleanup of the DOJ and FBI that Trump desires, he will alienate his subordinates, who will work to undermine him through leaks to the press.  If he sides totally with his subordinates, he will get fired by Trump.


This is the problem for any Trump Administration official – past, present, and future.


Interestingly, civil liberty advocates in both parties warn that allowing agencies to set policy and ignore the president is dangerous.  Many say the intelligence community and FBI have too much power and little accountability under anti-terrorism laws.  As it stands now, the only way to stop them is to allow the president (of either party) to fire them.


Given the growing distrust of the intelligence community and the FBI by voters, their only recourse is to vote for a president that promises to reform these agencies. 


Looking Towards the Future


The question now is, what will the firing of some administration officials and hiring of pro-Trump officials mean?


As we just mentioned, it is traditionally easy for an official to become an advocate of department policy, even though he was appointed by the president to change that policy.  That means that any attempt by Trump to change the status quo policy inside the federal bureaucracy will be difficult.  It will require officials who are committed to Trump’s policy and who aren’t afraid to upset their department and even risk damaging leaks to the media.


Then there is the question of how the vacancies in the government and the appointment of pro-Trump officials will change US policy.


Except for the wholesale removal of about 200 people in the National Security Council, the vacancies created so far are few.  Other officials will be able to fill in and slowly, the policies of Trump might prevail.


One change will be in foreign policy and national security policy.  Obama had dramatically increased the NSC, since he didn’t need Senate approval to bring them onboard.  The move to reduce the size of the NSC means that the NSC will act more like it did during the George W Bush presidency. 


With the reassignment of this block of NSC employees, much of the policy will go back to other departments like State, Defense, and Homeland Security.


However, the major change in policy will not come until after the November presidential elections.  If Trump is reelected, as some analysts expect, we can expect to see a major reshuffling of the Administration.  Officials who have stayed in but haven’t been aggressive in pursuing Trump’s policies may be removed in favor of someone more willing to carry out the President’s policies.  That could mean a more aggressive immigration policy and a serious attempt to pull troops out of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.  It also means a reduction in federal government regulations.


Given the controversial actions by the FBI and intelligence community during the 2016 campaign that perceived to be against Trump, it’s very likely that Trump may move against them and appoint officials who will “clean house” and institute major reforms if he wins reelection.


There are two scenarios that could stop this – a Democratic Senate or House.  If the Democrats retain the House in November, they could always reintroduce articles of impeachment.  And, if the Senate becomes Democratic, it will allow the Democrats to block the appointment of pro-Trump officials, even though there is very little possibility that the Democrats would gain enough seats to convict Trump of impeachable actions.  However, a Democratic majority in the Senate would allow for a full impeachment trial, unlike the short trail held a few weeks ago.


Both the threat of impeachment and the inability to place his preferred officials into his administration would tend to curtail Trump’s actions.  However, since NSC appointments aren’t sent to the Senate for confirmation, Trump may be forced to rely on his NSC for foreign policy actions.


Although many are criticizing Trump for firing some members of his administration, the fact is that what we are seeing is only a sample of what we could see if Trump is reelected.

Week of February 21, 2020

NATO “Defender 20” Exercise
Demonstrates Trump’s Policy Change

Since before Trump was even elected, experts have openly worried that his skepticism of NATO could lead to its dissolution. Russia would take advantage of that weakness, and the security guarantees America has given its European allies for decades would fade away.

But Trump in recent days has seemingly become a NATO fan.

Despite President Trump’s threats in the past not to defend NATO countries that don’t “pay their fair share,” the US is spending more on NATO readiness and has more forces in Europe than three years ago.

Another sign of the American commitment to NATO is the current NATO exercise “Defender 20,” the largest NATO exercise, in terms of American manpower, since the Cold War.  It will deploy 20,000 American soldiers to Europe from bases in the US and test America’s ability to move from the US to the European mainland, move across Europe on highways, bridges, and railroads, and carry out military maneuvers close to the Russian border.

When these American based forces are combined with US troops already stationed in Europe and other NATO countries, the total number of forces that will be involved in the exercise will be 37,000.

Britain is the largest non-American force to take part.  Their Royal Engineers are expected to participate in the bridging operation in Poland as well as their Army Air Corps helicopters.

Unlike previous exercises in recent years that were held at brigade level, this one will deploy division level forces, including the American 82nd Airborne, the 1st Armored, 1st Infantry, 3rd Infantry, and the 1st Cavalry divisions.  It will include 15 NATO nations and two non-NATO nations (Finland and Georgia).  20,000 pieces of equipment will be shipped from the US and 13,000 pieces of pre-positioned NATO equipment will be broken out of storage in Europe.

The goal is for an American based armored unit to land in Europe on military aircraft, draw pre-positioned stocks and become an armored brigade combat team in 96 hours.

Ironically, after years of saying the Abrams M-1 Tank was no longer needed, it will be used in the exercise.  These will include the new Abrams active protection system.

The exercise is clearly targeting a potential Russian threat.  One of the exercises taking place under Defender 20 is Allied Spirit.  It will entail a bridging exercise across a major river in Poland.  It will include the US 1st Cavalry Division, Czech forces, British forces, and the Polish 12th and 9th Mechanized.  The goal is to see if an international force can carry out the complex goal of building bridges and moving divisional sized units across it while under fire.

US Ambassador to Poland emphasized Poland’s place in NATO by noting, “In a crisis, NATO must be able to respond as quickly as possible.  Defender Europe 20 simply could not happen without Poland.”

Another aspect that makes it clear that this is an exercise against potential Russian threats is the “Forcible Entry” of Immediate Response Forces into Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania.  This will include elements of America’s 82nd Airborne Division, which is part of America’s fast reaction force.  It was this unit that quickly deployed to the Middle East, when the US Embassy in Baghdad was attacked.

The 6th Polish Airborne Brigade, American 173 Airborne Brigade Combat Team, and Spanish and Italian paratroopers will also be part of the paratrooper drops in Latvia, and Lithuania.

Another “Forcible Entry” of NATO airborne forces will also take place in the nation of Georgia.

While NATO appears to be operating seamlessly at the military level, there remains dissention at the political level.  Turkey will not be participating, even though one of the exercises is taking place in neighboring Georgia.

There is also the ongoing question of a European Union military force that would take the place of NATO, although an EU without Great Britain makes this force considerably less of a threat.

French President Macron, a major fan of the EU, has been especially critical of NATO.  In December, Macron said that NATO was experiencing “Brain Death.” –  a comment that met with puzzlement and distrust from many NATO nations, including Germany.  While Macron has attacked NATO publicly, France works well with the US military and carried out military strikes in Syria.  Macron has also called for enlarging NATO to include specifically Albania and North Macedonia.  They also rotate troops in the Baltic nations as part of NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence.

France will be sending troops to Defender 20 too.

One NATO nation not participating is Turkey.  However, Turkish President Erdogan will be very aware that NATO will be carrying out an airborne operation in Georgia – a Turkish neighbor.  The message will be clear – that NATO can carry out operations in the region without Turkish help.

Germany will be participating in the NATO exercise.  Although much of the equipment will be arriving in Belgium ports, many soldiers will be landing via military transport aircraft in Germany.  In fact, one critical part of the exercise is to make sure that US and British forces moving forward to the front can transverse German roads, bridges, and rail lines.  German rail is also investing more on heavy rail cars that can handle the heavy armored equipment of the US Army.

There will also be a focus on Eastern European nations and their transportation infrastructure.  These nations, who joined NATO after the Cold War, don’t have the extensive infrastructure of Western European nations.  As a result, Lithuania is improving its rail system to better handle the movement of NATO troops in an emergency.

For Western European nations, attention will be paid to the growing Chinese control of some major European ports that will pose a potential threat in a wartime situation.

One difference between the Defender 20 exercise and the annual Reforger NATO exercises of the Cold War era is that they will not focus on Germany, which was the expected route of invasion at that time.  Instead, they will focus on “front line” nations like Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Georgia.

This has engendered some criticism of Poland’s importance by German military leaders.  German General Hartmut Renk criticized Polish forces and their readiness.  He noted that the Polish forces had problems in previous exercises and said, “Lack of professionalism and complete irresponsibility which the command of the Polish Army keeps demonstrating from year to year, may be a reason to cancel the planned actions during the exercise Defender 20.”

Despite this criticism, Poland is one of the NATO countries that is meeting its defense spending goal set by NATO.  It also has one of the largest tank forces of NATO.  It has also made it clear that they are willing to pay for American forces stationed in Poland.

Although much has been made of President Trump’s criticism of NATO and its funding, the US has clearly decided to spend the money for this exercise.  Moving 20,000 soldiers and their tanks and armored equipment will cost the US about $340 million.

The number of troops and units involved demonstrates that America’s and Trump’s commitment to NATO isn’t just lip service.

The Defender 20 exercise demonstrates that what European NATO leaders say at meetings is just rhetoric.  Despite their criticisms of NATO, France and Germany still participate in NATO exercises in a major way.  While an EU military may be the wish of some European leaders like Macron, it isn’t practical.  An EU military without Great Britain becomes a continental military with little ability to project military power.  Meanwhile, NATO is a reality, despite its shortfalls.

NATO has shown its ability to respond to situations around the world.  And, although European leaders may criticize the US, it is America’s ability to move NATO forces with its massive Air Force transport aircraft fleet that allow European nations to deploy its forces.  And, an EU military force couldn’t achieve such capability for over a decade and would require a major expenditure.

Then, there is American airpower that can support other nation’s militaries anywhere in the world.

Like it or not, the EU nations are stuck with NATO.

It is expected that Defender like the Cold War maneuvers called Reforger will become an annual event.  But the focus will not always be on Russia.

Plans are for two Defender exercises every year – one in Europe and one in the Pacific.  Later this year there will be the Pacific Defender exercise – although much smaller than the one in Europe this year.  The two exercises will alternate between being a major or minor exercise.  The Pacific exercise will be lighter in 2020 but will be the major exercise in 2021.  The exercise will alternate with every other year being the “major” exercise.

“Defender 20” will continue until the spring.

Week of February 14, 2020

The Democratic Presidential Race After Iowa and New Hampshire

After the disaster of Iowa, where the results were late and confusing regarding who was the winner, the New Hampshire primary provided some clarity.

As in the past, the New Hampshire “First in the Nation” presidential primary eliminated several “also rans.”  Andrew Yang, Michael Bennet, and Deval Patrick pulled out of the race.

The election also sorely weakened some once formidable candidates like former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Elizabeth Warren.  Biden’s results were so bad that he left New Hampshire even before the voting ended.  Warren, who comes from the neighboring state of Massachusetts, finished in fourth place and below the 15% necessary to garner delegates.

In terms of exceeding expectations, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota came in a surprising third place, some attributed that to a good showing in the latest debate.

Former Mayor Pete Buttigieg came in a very close second place and may end up gaining more delegates than Sanders, who came in first.

However, before anyone claims that these two states have decided the winner of the Democratic nomination, it’s important to remember that the winner of the Democratic presidential nomination needs 1,991 delegates in order to win on the first round.  Currently Buttigieg has 23, Sanders has 21, Warren 8, Klobuchar has 7 and Biden has 6.  Interestingly, Buttigieg has more delegates, but Sanders has won more votes.

Obviously, there is a long way to go and some of the leaders in the delegate count may have problems in some of the upcoming primaries due to the differing demographics.

Sanders may have the slightest bit of momentum over his opponents, although the results don’t seem to show it.

Senator Klobuchar has gained some momentum, but her third place showing in New Hampshire has usually gone to candidates who pull out of the race.  For instance, in the 2012 race, Jon Huntsman came in third in New Hampshire and ended up pulling out of the race a few days later.

The Klobuchar campaign may eventually help Sanders defeat Buttigieg.  Klobuchar targeted Buttigieg in the last debate and she did very well.  Her New Hampshire showing may keep some Democrats from backing Buttigieg now in order to stop Sanders.

Although Buttigieg has attracted some attention as the “anybody but Sanders” candidate, he has some weaknesses going into the rest of the primaries.  He is openly gay and has a male partner – something that will turn off many Democratic voters in the South and Midwest.  He also appeals to white voters who have degrees – a demographic found on the coasts, but not in heartland America.

This is where the next two upcoming presidential nomination contests will hurt Buttigieg – South Carolina and Nevada.  Neither state has a preponderance of educated whites and the Hispanics of Nevada aren’t likely to favor a gay candidate.  Nevada, which holds its caucus on February 22, is also a strong union state thanks to the SEIU union that represents much of the casino industry.  They are more progressive and likely to side with Sanders or Warren.

Nevada is a caucus state, which means organization is important.  And, it has been over a month since a poll was taken.  In those polls, Biden was ahead, with Sanders in a close second place Warren was in third place.  Depending on Biden and Warren voters, this seems to give Sanders an edge, however slight.

South Carolina’s primary is on February 25th.  This is Biden’s last hope for a clear road to the nomination.  The hope is that more conservative Democrats will prefer the former Vice President to the more progressive candidates.  The last poll was taken two weeks ago, and it shows Biden leads Sanders with a comfortable 18 point lead.  However, much of Biden’s loss in support came after this poll was taken.

However, remember that Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada are a small percentage of the votes needed for the nomination.  It will be “Super Tuesday” on March 3rd that will have a major impact on the Democratic nomination, especially since two major states, California and Texas, hold their primary elections that day.  On that day, 1,344 delegates, about one third of the delegate total. will be awarded.  If one candidate wins an overwhelming number of the states that day, the presidential nomination race may be over.

That will be difficult to do, however.

Super Tuesday was originally a primary day for southern states in order to have a bigger say in the nomination of the Democratic candidate.  That has changed as states outside of the Old South have moved their elections to that day too.

The varying demographics of the Super Tuesday states make it harder to sweep.  Three states, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Minnesota have their native presidential candidates, Sanders, Warren, and Klobuchar, who have the edge in winning those states.  And, while Sanders is doing well in liberal California with 29%, his chances of winning conservative states like Alabama and Texas are nearly impossible.

However, California has 416 delegates, which is over one fifth of the number needed to win the nomination.

Assuming no Democratic candidate gains the momentum necessary to sweep Super Tuesday in the next two and a half weeks; the situation may be very complicated and may lead to a brokered convention in July.

While Sanders can be expected to do well in California, Colorado, Vermont, and Maine, Biden (if he survives) can take states like Texas, Alabama, Tennessee, and Oklahoma. Buttigieg may have few outright wins but can be expected to pick up delegates in California, Virginia, Maine, and Colorado.  If the Klobuchar surge continues, she may do well in the southern states, where Sanders and Buttigieg are weak.

The candidate who comes out of Super Tuesday with the most delegates should have the momentum for the rest of the month of March.  And, by the end of March, over 50% of the Democratic delegates will have been picked.

However, the March primary states have different demographics.  Rust Belt Ohio and Sunshine state Florida have different demographics, but both have their primaries on March 17th.  These states are both swing states in the general election in November and how they vote may indicate who has the best chance of taking these states (who both voted for Trump in 2016) from Trump.  If Klobuchar survives, several Midwest states like Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, North Dakota, and Michigan may give her several delegates.

If there is no clear winner by the end of March, the chance of a brokered convention is much greater.  However, there is another factor to consider – the late entry of billionaire Michael Bloomberg. He is self-funding his campaign and has reportedly spent $100 million to$ 200 million in advertising.  Polls show him in third place in national polls, behind Sanders (1st place) and the rapidly plummeting Biden (2nd place).

Depending on the poll, either Buttigieg or Warren is in 4th place.

Given the number of candidates still in the race and the very good chance that they will split the delegates still to be awarded, there is a chance that the candidates will go into the Democratic National convention without a clear winner – what is called a “brokered convention.”  The last brokered convention was in 1952.

If the Democratic convention is brokered, the two most important factors will be the super delegates, who are uncommitted by the primary and the candidates, who don’t have any chance of winning the nomination, but have a significant number of votes.

The super delegates are usually politicians who are considered Democratic Party leaders and elected Democrats.  Unless there is a clear majority for a candidate, they can’t vote until the second ballot.

Most of the super delegates oppose Sanders, so unless Sanders comes into the convention with most delegates, he will have a hard time winning the nomination.  If Biden has survived the primary season and has enough delegates, the super delegates are likely to vote for him in the second ballot to give him the nomination.

If Sanders has the plurality of the delegates from the primaries, he may work a deal with some of the other candidates like naming one of them as vice presidential nominee in return for their delegates.

If no one has enough votes to win the nomination on the first ballot and Biden has faded as a potential candidate, the super delegates may decide to pick someone who has a better chance to beat Trump in November and even from outside the names of the candidates.

Here is where Bloomberg comes in.  Although he is missing from many primary ballots, which means he has less chance of acquiring delegates, he is hoping for a brokered convention.  As someone more mainstream than Sanders, can put a lot of money into his presidential campaign, and who can donate lots of money to other Democrats, he is an attractive second ballot choice for establishment Democrats.  In fact, there are news reports that Bloomberg is preparing for a brokered convention by meeting regularly with Democratic congressmen, who are usually super delegates.

Of course, if Bloomberg takes the nomination from Sanders after Sanders has campaigned nationally, he will face considerable backlash.  Undoubtedly, there will be accusations that Bloomberg “bought” the nomination and some Democratic voters will sit out the election.

However, it’s important to remember that while the super delegates can vote in the second ballot, the regular delegates are also released from supporting the candidate who won their vote in the primaries.  In fact, some delegates may be committed to voting for one candidate on the first ballot but may really favor one of the other candidates.

As exciting as a brokered convention is, the leaders of the Democratic Party don’t want one.  Conventions are geared to be a week-long advertisement of the presidential nominee.  Speakers and votes are scheduled for prime time, so they get the largest number of TV viewers.  Controversy is the last thing they want because too many remember the 1968 Democratic Convention that spiraled out of control and let Republican nominee Richard Nixon win the election.

Consequently, if it looks like a brokered convention, expect the Democratic leadership to meet ahead of the convention and try to negotiate a solution.  However, will the candidates be willing to negotiate?

Although he did well in the primaries in 2016, Sanders lost the nomination to Clinton.  Consequently, he is unlikely to negotiate his delegates away if he has the plurality of the delegates.  But, if the party takes the nomination away from him again, his supporters may sit out the election, which will guarantee a Trump win.

The next 20 days will be critical for the Democratic Party.  They want a candidate that will unify the party and win the White House in November.  Whether they get that will be seen by midnight on Super Tuesday.

However, remember that old political adage – two weeks is an eternity in politics.  And, there are a lot of eternities between now and the general election in November.

Week of February 7, 2020


The focus this week in Washington was the conclusion of the Trump impeachment trial and acquittal of the president.  This was capped off by the president’s State of the Union Speech made on Tuesday.

This week saw reports that the US Navy was fielding a new, low yield nuclear weapon on its ballistic missile submarines.  The Monitor analysis looks at the new nuclear weapon and the strategy behind it.

Think Tanks Activity Summary
(For further details, scroll down to the PUBLICATIONS section)

The Heritage Foundation looks at Trump’s State of the Union Speech and his defense and foreign policy comments.  The Middle East was prominently featured in Trump’s State of the Union speech. The president noted that his administration had made a priority of “combating radical Islamic terrorism” and briefly described his Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative, which calls for the disarming of Hamas and other Islamic terrorists, as part of that effort. He spent much more time in recounting the progress his administration has made in defeating ISIS terrorists in Iraq and Syria. He noted the death of ISIS leader Al-Baghdadi in a U.S. military operation last year and received one of the longest standing ovations of the night.  Trump ended the Middle East portion of his speech by drawing a distinction between Iran’s long-suffering people and Iran’s oppressive regime. He called on Tehran to end its nuclear weapon ambitions and support for terrorism, while stressing that he remains open to a diplomatic resolution of these issues

The CSIS looks at America’s failure to plan Navy force levels.  They conclude, “Because of the reduced budget, it cannot do what it had done for the last several years of budget growth: expand the fleet while still investing in new technologies. Because of the 355-ship force goal, it cannot cut the size of the fleet to fund new initiatives. Because of the fixed counting methodology, it cannot claim to meet the 355-ship goal by including ships that were previously uncounted. It may be that some combination of delay in meeting the 355-ship goal, small changes to the counting methodology, smaller and more affordable ships, and a bit more shipbuilding money will provide a solution, but getting all parties to agree will be hard.”

The American Foreign Policy Council says Washington needs to anticipate Iran’s next move.  They conclude, “Looking ahead, the question is whether the regime, facing rising domestic discontent and surely worried about its grip on power, will seek to rally public support by again targeting U.S. interests — especially in the aftermath of elections that will likely usher in a more conservative body. We shouldn’t be surprised to see Tehran flex its muscles by increasing its support for terrorist and militia groups in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, and — in light of President Trump’s efforts to craft an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement — in the Gaza Strip as well. Nor should we be surprised to see more direct Iranian regional action of the kind that we’ve witnessed in recent months, such as another attack on tankers in the Gulf of Oman or another strike at Saudi oil facilities…Presuming that Washington will continue to tighten the screws on Iran economically, the coming months could prove more dangerous, not less. One hopes that Washington is preparing for all the possibilities.”

The Washington Institute looks at the Trump peace plan and the issues of Jerusalem and borders.  They conclude, “The Trump plan’s parameters on borders and Jerusalem suggest that the administration has moved the U.S. position sharply in the direction of Israel’s current government. In the most hopeful scenario, the combination of a tough new U.S. approach and the initial openness of Arab states to consider the plan as a point of departure could jolt the Palestinians to decide that time is not on their side, perhaps leading the parties to resume talks and find suitable compromises. In a less hopeful scenario, Palestinian anger toward the plan proves too strong to dispel, and unilateral Israeli annexations in the West Bank produce broad international opposition to the plan, essentially ending any near-term prospects of negotiations or a two-state solution. Abbas seemed isolated in the region prior to the plan’s release, but the February 1 Arab League meeting in Cairo and the February 3 Organization of Islamic Cooperation meeting in Jeddah may have changed that somewhat. Going forward, he may be able to paint the administration’s shift on core issues as American overreach, and silence Arab critics who are fatigued by the longstanding paralysis on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The Heritage Foundation looks at the Trump Peace Plan.  They conclude, “Getting the buy-in of these key Arab states is important for the Trump administration’s “outside-in” strategy, which seeks to enlist support from Arab states that already have made peace with Israel (Egypt and Jordan) as well as Arab Gulf oil states that fear Iran more than Israel (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait).  It is not clear how hard Arab leaders will pressure Palestinian leaders to accept the plan. Realistically, the plan is unlikely to advance peace talks unless the Palestinians engage on it, and that is not likely. It takes two to tango, but Palestinian leaders have refused multiple American invitations to attend the dance. The Trump peace plan is therefore unlikely to jumpstart the long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.  But even if it produces no immediate results, Trump’s initiative will serve as a marker that could encourage Palestinian leaders to take a more realistic approach to negotiations in the future and improve the long-term prospects for peace.”

The CSIS looks at Erdogan’s policy in Libya.  They note, “The international situation Erdogan finds himself in is different to that which prevailed at the time of his third military intervention in northern Syria in October. He was then able to obtain not only the implicit assent of both the United States and Russia prior to the operation but also their subsequent diplomatic acceptance through separate ceasefire agreements. This time Erdogan has not been able to get the understanding he may have expected from either Putin, with whom he discussed the Libyan situation in bilateral meetings in Istanbul, Moscow, and Berlin, or President Donald Trump.”



America Fields New
Low-Yield Nuclear Weapon

It was announced this week that the US has fielded a new nuclear weapon on its ballistic Missile Submarines (SSBM).  The warhead, model W76-2, is a low yield weapon that has been wedded to the Trident missile and according to reports is currently on the USS Tennessee (SSBN 734), which is on patrol in the Atlantic.

According to the Federation of Atomic Scientists, only one or two of the 20 missiles on the submarine are tipped with the new weapon.  They reportedly have a yield of about five kilotons – about one third of the yield of the Hiroshima bomb.  The other missiles onboard either have the 90 kiloton W76-1 or 455 kiloton W88.  Each missile can carry up to 8 warheads.

The more powerful W88 is designed to target hardened underground command facilities, while the W76-1 is the nuclear weapon for other targets.

Despite the controversy of building the new warhead, the Rational presented by proponents is that America’s nuclear arsenal was due for a modernization.  Nuclear weapons contain radioactive elements, and these degrade over the years – especially the tritium, which has a half-life of about 11 years.  That meant the nuclear weapons were aging and had to be modernized if they were expected to be reliable.

This was what happened with the W76 class of warheads, which received congressional approval for modernization late in the Clinton Administration.  The production of the W76-1 started in 2008 and extended the life of the warheads by 20 years.

The W76-2 warhead design was added to the W76-1 production, since the design was similar.  Some speculate that the only major difference is that the new design doesn’t have the secondary fusion package that provides much of the yield.

Many critics claim the new low yield weapon increases the chances of a nuclear exchange.  They also claim that there is already an assortment of low yield nuclear weapons that are already fielded on cruise missiles, air launched missiles and gravity bombs.

Critics also note that the Russian detection of a submarine launched ballistic missile could cause a catastrophic misunderstanding.  The Russian high command wouldn’t know if the missile contained a low yield warhead, or one of the larger, more destructive warheads.  As a result, Russia might very well launch a major counterattack.

Despite the criticism of the low yield weapon, the history of nuclear weapon development over the past 60 years is the development of smaller, more accurate weapons.  Since the 1950s, the nuclear powers have gone from the development of 100 megaton bombs to neutron bombs that have the explosive yield of as little as one kiloton.

As missiles became more accurate, it made sense to develop smaller, lighter warheads that destroyed the target, without damaging and contaminating the surrounding area.  Arguably, it made the idea of a nuclear exchange more likely because the potential damage was less.

On the other hand, a nuclear exchange that caused less damage to civilian areas is not a bad idea.

What worried American strategists was that the physics of small yield nuclear weapons was known to the Russians and Chinese and it was quite likely that they had already fielded them.  This left the US in a quandary.  If Russia used a low yield nuclear weapon in a conflict, what would be the US response if they didn’t have a low yield option?  Either the US escalated the war by using its more powerful ballistic missiles, tried to penetrate Russian airspace with the more vulnerable nuclear tipped cruise missiles or air launched missile, or responded with less powerful conventional weapons.

The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review saw a need for a capability to “help counter any mistaken perception of an exploitable gap in US regional deterrence capabilities.”

Nuclear strategists argued that Russia had developed a “escalate to deescalate” or “escalate to win” strategy, where they could use tactical nuclear weapons if a conventional attack stalled.  The thinking was that the US wouldn’t respond to a tactical nuclear attack with the more devastating strategic nuclear weapons.

In fact, this was a strategy that had been “war gamed” by the Russians when looking at conflict scenarios in Europe.

What was needed was a “prompt” and usable nuclear capability that could counter and deter Russian use of tactical nuclear capabilities.

Unlike gravity bombs, air launched missiles or cruise missiles, submarine launched ballistic missiles were harder to intercept and could be launched at Russian targets in minutes, which was a faster response than what it would take for cruise missiles, air launched missiles, or gravity bombs to hit their target.  Ballistic missiles would also be more likely to penetrate Russia’s new air defense systems.

Although much of the strategy rests on retaliating against Russia, these weapons also have a use against other nuclear powers like China, North Korea, and potentially nuclear Iran.

It is perceived that American war planners have explored options against Iranian and North Korean missile sites, these are known to the US and they aren’t as “hardened” against attack as Russian missiles are.   Advocates of these weapons asserts that it could be used without the collateral damage that larger nuclear weapons would cause.  And, since they have a lower yield, they are more likely to be used and sometimes as a preemptive strike.

Another concern is the Israeli nuclear strategy.  Since the science of low yield nuclear weapons is well known, it is very likely that Israel has developed them too.  And, since the Middle East is a relatively smaller theater of war than Europe, the idea of low yield nuclear weapons is much more attractive.

What’s important to remember is that the evolution of smaller yield nuclear weapons has been going on for over 60 years.  And, there is little likelihood that it will stop soon.  The nuclear powers are already working on 4th generation nuclear weapons that are smaller, lighter, and less powerful than anything that has been fielded yet.  Scientists are already designing thermonuclear devices the size of an egg, with the explosive yield of a few tons of high explosives.

Given these advances, one must assume that there will come a time when nuclear explosives become a likely choice for war.




What you need to know about Trump’s policy proposals

Heritage Foundation

February 5, 2020

The president declared that “our military is completely rebuilt.”  The last three years have indeed been good for the U.S. military, and much of the lost readiness that had dwindled over the years has been restored. Army readiness, for example, is up 55%.  But despite favorable budgets, the military is not yet fully rebuilt. Years of budget cuts and years of over-use have strained the military, postponed necessary equipment refresh, and caused the military to shrink in size. While there are unmistakable signs of progress, there is still work to be done to fully restore the military. Additional investment and attention will still be needed. As noted by the president, the creation of the Space Force is a true step forward for the United States. It will allow our country to better focus its efforts in this critical domain.

Read more at:



Palestinians Miss Opportunity by Rejecting Trump Peace

By James Phillips

Heritage Foundation

Jan 31, 2020


President Donald Trump unveiled his long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan on Tuesday at a White House ceremony attended by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Trump declared that the plan “presents a ‘win-win’ opportunity for both sides, a realistic two-state solution that resolves the risk of Palestinian statehood to Israel’s security.” Netanyahu enthusiastically embraced Trump’s vision, proclaiming, “It’s a great plan for Israel. It’s a great plan for peace.” He then lauded Trump as “the greatest friend that Israel has ever had in the White House.”  Indeed, Trump’s vision for peace is the most pro-Israeli peace initiative ever promoted by the United States. It accords a high priority to Israeli security needs, recognizes Israel’s vital interest in retaining control of the border with Jordan, and clears the way for U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over many settlements and Jewish holy sites in the disputed territory of the West Bank. Trump’s vision also includes important benefits for Palestinians, who were offered the opportunity to build a state of their own, supported by a $50 billion regional development plan for the Palestinian territories and nearby Arab states.

Read more at:



The Spectacular & Public Collapse of Navy Force Planning

By Mark F. Cancian and Adam Saxton

Center for Strategic and International Studies

January 30, 2020


Planning for a 21st century Navy of unmanned vessels, distributed operations, and great power competition has collapsed. Trapped by a 355-ship force goal, a reduced budget, and a fixed counting methodology, the Navy can’t find a feasible solution to the difficult question of how its forces should be structured. As a result, the Navy postponed announcement of its new force structure assessment (FSA) from January to “the spring.” That means the navy will not be able to influence the 2021 budget year much, forfeiting a major opportunity to reshape the fleet and bring it in line with the national defense strategy.

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Erdogan’s Libyan Gambit

By Bulent Aliriza

Center for Strategic and International Studies

January 24, 2020


After having focused for most of the last quarter of 2019 on northeastern Syria and his declared security imperative of pushing the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) away from the Turkish border, a goal he partially achieved through a military operation launched on October 9, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan turned his attention to Libya. Accordingly, parallel to the worsening of the long-running Libyan civil war, Erdogan has raised the level of Turkish diplomatic and military involvement on the side of the embattled Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli headed by Fayez Sarraj against the growing challenge of the Libyan National Army (LNA) under Khalifa Haftar. Erdogan’s decision to insert Turkey more forcefully into the complex Libyan crisis is the product of a number of factors, each of them important from his perspective. To begin with, it fits into Erdogan’s proactive foreign policy, which seeks to establish and expand Turkey’s role in its region, especially in countries with which Turkey enjoys historical, cultural, or religious links, while raising Turkey’s overall international profile.

Read more at: https://www.csis.org/analysis/erdogans-libyan-gambit


Washington needs to anticipate Iran’s next provocation

By Lawrence J. Haas

American Foreign Policy Council

January 30, 2020


Signs are mounting that in Tehran, which faces rising pressures at home and abroad, the country’s powerful hardline conservatives are circling the wagons, raising the odds of still more Iranian global provocations. The question is whether Washington — which continues to tighten the economic screws on Tehran — is ready for what might come next. In the latest conservative effort to solidify power, the country’s Guardian Council recently barred 9,500 prospective candidates (almost two-thirds of the 14,500 prospective candidates) in next month’s parliamentary elections, from running. The 12-member Guardian Council — an unelected body that includes six designees of the nation’s ultimate authority, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei — routinely bars hundreds if not thousands of would-be candidates from elections because they’re not conservative enough or committed enough to the regime’s revolutionary goals. This time, however, the barred candidates include nearly a third of the current parliament. The signal was clear. The Council not only wants to prevent new reformist candidates from winning office; it also wants to purge the parliament of members it considers too moderate.

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Continuity vs. Overreach in the Trump Peace Plan (Part 1): Borders and Jerusalem

By David Makovsky

Washington Institute

February 4, 2020



The newly released U.S. peace plan marks a very significant shift in favor of the current Israeli government’s view, especially when compared to three past U.S. initiatives: (1) the Clinton Parameters of December 2000, (2) Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s “Annapolis Process” of 2007-2008, and (3) Secretary of State John Kerry’s 2013-2014 initiative. The message is clear: the Trump administration will no longer keep sweetening the deal with every Palestinian refusal, a criticism some have aimed at previous U.S. efforts. Yet the new plan raises worrisome questions of its own. Will its provisions prove so disadvantageous to the proposed Palestinian state that they cannot serve as the basis for further negotiations? And would such overreach enable Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas to sway Arab states who have signaled that they want to give the proposal a chance, convincing them to oppose it instead? If so, the plan may wind up perpetuating the current diplomatic impasse and setting the stage for a one-state reality that runs counter to Israel’s identity as a Jewish, democratic state. This two-part PolicyWatch will address these questions by examining how the Trump plan compares to past U.S. initiatives when it comes to the conflict’s five core final-status issues. Part 1 focuses on two of these issues: borders and Jerusalem.

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Week of January 24, 2020

The Politics of Lies and Body Counts

Before leaving the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday, Mr. Trump said the injuries sustained by the American service members in the attack on a base in Iraq were “not very serious.”

“I heard they had headaches and a couple of other things,” the president told reporters. “I don’t consider them very serious injuries, relative to the other injuries that I’ve seen.”

Trump’s comments drew criticism from veterans advocates who noted that since the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military and the Department of Veterans Affairs have put in place procedures to treat and lessen the impact of traumatic brain injuries suffered from the blasts from roadside bombs and injuries considered to be the signature wounds of those conflicts.

On Tuesday, the U.S. military acknowledged an additional number of service members had been flown from Iraq to Germany for observation nearly two weeks after the missile attack on the Al Asad airbase. Last week 11 service members were flown out of Iraq for further observation after presenting concussion-like symptoms.

When pressed by reporters, Trump continued his claim that the injuries weren’t very serious relative “to other injuries I have seen.”

President Donald Trump holds a news conference at the 50th World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 22, 2020.Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

. “No, I do not consider that to be bad injuries. No.”

Trump’s remarks also drew swift criticism from veterans’ groups that have advocated for the victims from violence in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Paul Rieckhoff, the founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, tweeted: “The @DeptVetAffairs and hundreds of thousands of post-9/11 veterans disagree: research.va.gov/topics/tbi.cfm Don’t just be outraged by #PresidentMayhem’s latest asinine comments. Take action to help vets facing TBIs: uclahealth.org/operationmend/


The DeptVetAffairs and hundreds of thousands of post-9/11 veterans disagree: https://www.research.va.gov/topics/tbi.cfm  Don’t just be outraged by #PresidentMayhem’s latest asinine comments. Take action to help vets facingTBIs: https://www.uclahealth.org/operationmend/  https://twitter.com/AndrewFeinberg/status/1219952656971653121 …


Wow. @realDonaldTrump just told (I think) @weijia that he doesn’t think US service members who suffer Traumatic Brain Injuries had anything very serious happen to them.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines a traumatic brain injury (TBI) as “a disruption in the normal function of the brain that can be caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head, or penetrating head injury.”

In addition, service members and veterans potentially have added exposure to blasts, from combat and from training.

TBI injuries have been treated as the “signature wound” and “silent epidemic” of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, where insurgents used roadside bombs to significant effect. While the blasts from those bombs caused serious physical injuries to U.S. service members, they also caused a much larger number of TBI injuries that were not immediately visible.

This Jan. 8, 2020, satellite image released by Planet Labs Inc., reportedly shows damage to the Ain al-Asad US airbase in western Iraq, after being hit by rockets from Iran.Ho/Planet Labs Inc. /AFP via Getty

According to the VA, the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC) “reported more than 408,000 TBIs among U.S. service members worldwide between 2000 and early 2019.”

Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut accused the president of misleading the American public for weeks by denying any U.S. personnel were injured in an Iranian missile strike earlier this month and downplaying the severity of their injuries once they became public.

“You don’t get sent to Germany for headaches,” Murphy, a Democrat who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, told CBS News in an interview. “You get airlifted to Germany when you’re in seriously bad shape.”

The controversial issue of body counts and casualties raised its head this week as it was learned that dozens of Americans were sent to hospitals in Germany and Kuwait in the wake of the Iranian missile attack on Al-Asad air base.

Right after the attack, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper had said, “Most importantly, no casualties, no friendly causalities, whether they are US, coalition, contractor, etc.”

Now it has been learned that 11 US soldiers were injured in the attack and were flown out of Iraq several days later to be treated for head injuries after they showed signs of concussion, additional soldiers sent later to Germany for evaluation and treatment.

The Pentagon justified their original assessment by saying, “That was the commander’s assessment at the time.  Symptoms emerged days after the fact and they were treated out of an abundance of caution.”

Whatever the reason, the history of battle casualty reports is one of lying and misrepresenting the facts.

Obviously, insisting one’s side has suffered few casualties has been common over the years.  It helps improve the moral of one’s army and civilian populations by making it seem that victory is within sight.  This was the German tactic in WWI, when the Germans insisted that killing more French at Verdun meant it was a German victory.  Of course, the Germans never captured Verdun and France eventually defeated the Germans.

In the case of the Iranian missile attack, by claiming no American casualties, Trump was able to calm down a situation that could have led to a war with Iran.  It also supplied political ammunition by showing that Iran’s missile threat was overblown.

The great Prussian strategist Karl von Clausewitz warned nearly 200 years ago, “Casualty reports…are never accurate.”  He continued by writing that figures are “no accurate measure of the loss of morale; hence…the abandonment of the fight remains the only authentic proof of victory.”

Not everyone thought that way.  Post Napoleonic strategist Baron Antoine Jomini said that war could best be understood in terms of mathematics – things that could be counted.

America and its Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara took this theory to the extreme in the Vietnam War.  McNamara, the former head of Ford Motor Company, thought that counting dead North Vietnamese could prove the US was winning the war, just like counting the number of Fords sold could prove that Ford Motor Company was making money.

This led to the notorious body count syndrome that was used to prove the US was winning the Vietnam War.  Soldiers counting bodies were encouraged to inflate the number of enemy dead found on a battlefield.  They were also indiscriminate in counting dead civilians as enemy soldiers.

In later years, General Giap admitted that he had lost 500,000 soldiers from 1964 to 1969, but they meant nothing.  North Vietnam won the war despite horrendous body counts.

The result was that, after Vietnam, American officers moved away from the body count philosophy.  During the war to retake Kuwait, General Norman Schwarzkopf, the allied commander stated that as a Vietnam veteran, he abhorred body counts as a measure of success.

General Tommy Franks was to comment, “We don’t do body counts.”

However, after the first Gulf War, the US has drifted back into the old mindset as the never-ending War on Terror has continued for nearly a generation.  Without clear victories in places like Afghanistan, it is much easier to count bodies in order to claim victory.

The art of body counts has evolved as technology has evolved.  Today, the deaths and injuries caused by drone strikes is a subject of controversy.  Naureen Shah, Director of the Human Rights Clinic as Columbia University says, “That it is the US government that owes the public an accounting of who is being killed.”

A report by Columbia University warns that low civilian casualty estimates may provide false assurance to the public and policy makers that drone strikes do not harm civilians.  Many of the “militants” who are victims of drone attacks are very likely to be civilians who were at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Admittedly, body and casualty counts are vague and the definition of injured and can change.  In the case of the soldiers injured in the Iranian missile retaliation, they weren’t originally counted as they had no visible signs of injury after the attack.  It was only when they showed signs of concussion that they were sent to medial facilities.

Brain trauma like concussion is a relatively new injury as researchers have discovered that concussions are much more dangerous than previously thought.  In Vietnam, soldiers who suffered concussions were told to either “walk it off” or to go to the barracks to rest for a few hours.  They weren’t considered injured when making reports.

In other words, the Iranian missile attack victims would have not been considered casualties by medical standards of the Vietnam War.

Then there is Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD), which may not show up until the soldier returns home or occurs years later.

Reporting body and causality counts of the enemy is still subjective, especially if there are no friendly troops in the area.  Drone and air strikes rely upon overhead imagery for damage assessment.  If the imagery is captured after a few hours, bodies may have already been removed.  There is also the question of victims in the wreckage of buildings.

In this case, the count may be very subjective, especially if the senior officers want to prove a strike is successful.  In that case, the junior officers will gladly make up casualty numbers that will make their bosses happy – even if that includes dead civilians or imaginary enemy caught under wreckage.

Sending troops to make an actual body count in unsecured territory is risky.

Another factor of false casualty count is the moral factor.  Wars, especially those that last a long time, require some proof that they are being won.  Otherwise, they tend to lose the support of the voters (Vietnam is an excellent example) and the troops.  This is especially true in Afghanistan, where the US has been at war for 19 years – with no end in sight.

American voters have shown that they want to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan, while still winning – one reason Trump won in 2016.  If body and causality counts can be used to prove the US is winning, it is easier to withdraw.

Another use of false casualty count is diplomatic.  In the case of the Iranian missile attack, the immediate announcement of American casualties would have engendered calls by Americans for retaliation against Iran – which would have led to more Iranian attacks that could have led to a general war.

By announcing no American casualties, it gave Trump a chance to lower tensions by not retaliating against Iran.  It can be said that the relative peace in the region is due to the “fudging” of American casualty figures.

Despite all the controversy, in the end, the practice of faking or fudging body and casualty figures will continue.

Clausewitz once said, “In war everything is uncertain.”

He was wrong.  In war, false body counts will always be certain.

Week of January 17, 2020

Think Tanks Activity Summary
(For further details, scroll down to the PUBLICATIONS section)



The impeachment trial has sucked up all the news in Washington.

However, the 2020 presidential season is about to start.  The Monitor analysis looks at the major Democratic candidates, their proposed programs, and their chances of winning the nomination and election.


The Heritage Foundation says US-Oman relations must improve in 2020 with the new Sultan Haitham.  They note, “The United States and Oman share many geopolitical challenges and have had good relations dating back two centuries. Under the leadership of Sultan Haitham, U.S.–Omani relations will be entering a new chapter. The Trump Administration should take this new opportunity to build on existing relations by sending a senior delegation led by Vice President Mike Pence to Muscat in the coming days, inviting Sultan Haitham to the White House as soon as mutually convenient, sending a message to Oman’s neighbors that the U.S. does not want any instability during the transition period, and reaffirming Oman as a trustworthy partner in meeting many of the challenges facing the region.”


The Washington Institute produced a study about the future of Oman just before the death of Sultan Qaboos bin Said.  Noting his move to modernize his country, they note, “For Oman, there would-be no-good time to lose the sultan, who has ushered his country into the modern age. Sultan Qaboos has overseen a spectacular trajectory of development over fifty years that delivered Oman upward from an era of one primary school, one medical clinic, and no tarmac road connecting its only international airport to the capital. Moreover, the sultan’s genuine popularity serves as the primary unifying factor in his country and protects it from the continuous debilitating strife seen, for example, in neighboring Yemen.”  The study also looks at the country’s neutral foreign policy and whether it can survive Qaboos’s passing


The CSIS looks at Iran’s growing power.  This report highlights new data and analysis, the IRGC-QF has supported a growing number of non-state fighters in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Pakistan—including nearly a 50 percent increase since 2016. Thanks to Iran, these forces are better equipped with more sophisticated weapons and systems. This report also uses satellite imagery to identify an expansion of IRGC-QF-linked bases in countries like Iran and Lebanon to train non-state fighters. Iran has constructed more sophisticated and longer-range ballistic and cruise missiles and conducted missile attacks against countries like Saudi Arabia. In addition, Iran has developed offensive cyber capabilities and used them against the United States and its partners. In the nuclear arena, Iran has ended commitments it made to limit uranium enrichment, production, research, and expansion—raising the prospect of Iranian nuclear weapons.


The Cato Institute looks at the American poor record of regime change.  They note, “While President Trump has downgraded democracy promotion in his administration’s foreign policy, discussions within the Trump administration regarding regime change have continued. Throughout Trump’s time in office, members of his foreign policy team have considered targeting the regimes in Venezuela, Iran, and North Korea.  Even though the Trump administration has not taken armed action to remove these governments, the mere fact that officials within the administration have held high-level policy discussions on the topic shows that it remains a viable policy option.  The conventional wisdom in Washington holds that a more democratic world makes America safer. Increasing the number of democratic regimes in the world by force, as occurred following the American operations in Grenada, Panama, and the post–World War II occupations of Germany and Japan, has proved beneficial for the United States. Using military force to remove odious regimes continues even after some notable failures”.





A Look at the Democratic Presidential Candidates and the Upcoming Primaries

It’s just a couple of weeks until the official start of the 2020 presidential election season.  The first event is the February 3rd Iowa caucuses, which will help determine the Iowa delegation to the Democratic National Convention this summer.

Now that the field of presidential hopefuls has narrowed itself down from over 30 to a handful of legitimate possibilities, it’s time to look at them and judge their potential to win the nominations.

Basically, there are three strong candidates with the organization and money to compete,  two billionaires with the money to remain in the campaign despite poor poll numbers, and some “also rans” who have little chance, but are potential vice president choices or likely 2024 candidates.

The three most likely candidates are within a few points of each other in national polls.  They are Biden, Sanders, and Warren.

Joe Biden

Joe Biden was Vice President for Obama and had a long career in the US Senate before that.  He is the most experienced candidate and the favorite of the Democratic establishment.

Biden’s experience, name recognition, and more moderate stand on the issues should make him the most electable.

However, experience cuts both ways.  He has a voting record as a moderate Democrat that leaves himself open to attacks by more liberal Democratic candidates.  For instance, he voted to invade Iraq.  However, that record may help the Democrats to win over the white, blue collar voters who have deserted the Democrats for Trump.

At 76, Biden is one of several old candidates.  That means he has health and cognitive issues.  He is very prone to say embarrassing things and has a habit of touching women.

Despite this, many Democrats think he is the most electable candidate and he has the backing of the Democratic establishment.  Should the Democratic convention become deadlocked, he becomes the favorite to win on a second ballot.

Another potential problem is his (and his son’s) relationship with the Ukraine.  He might be called as a witness in the Trump impeachment trial and this could open questions about corruption.

Interestingly, three of Biden’s opponents in the campaign will be sitting in the US Senate during the impeachment trial – Sanders, Klobuchar and Warren.  They could if they choose to open up issues concerning Biden corruption that would embarrass Biden and permanently damage his campaign.

Bernie Sanders

Senator Sanders is back in 2020 after a nearly successful campaign for president against Hillary Clinton in 2016.  In fact, without the strong support of the Democratic establishment, Sanders may very well have won the nomination in 2016.  And, Trump has even confessed that Sanders might very well have beaten him in the general election.

Sanders is 77 and a year older than Biden.  He is an avowed socialist but has represented Vermont for 30 years as either a congressman or senator.

His major issues are free college tuition, a higher minimum wage, and universal healthcare.  He has an excellent grassroots organization, enthusiastic supporters, and a strong base of small donors.

Sanders has the enthusiastic support of many of the progressive Democrats and young voters, which is a surprise given his age.  However, his socialist programs scare establishment Democrats who think he will drive voters into Trump’s camp.

Sanders recently had a heart attack, which has raised questions about his ability to campaign and serve as president.  If he is nominated by the Democrats, his choice of a vice presidential candidate will be scrutinized.

Elizabeth Warren

Warren has been the US senator from Massachusetts since 2013, which gives her less experience than her two major competitors, Biden and Sanders.  She is 69, so she doesn’t have the health issues that Sanders and Biden have.

Warren has made an issue of consumer protection and the power of big banks.  Consequently, she isn’t the favorite of the rich and influential, although she has a good donor base.

She has promised to fight the “rigged economic system” and wants to forgive college debt for college students.  She is progressive like Sanders and many of her proposals are similar to Sanders like free college tuition.

Warren has also said she will use presidential executive action to further climate change policy.

A controversy erupted Tuesday when she refused to shake hands with Sanders after the Iowa debate.  The issue was whether Sanders had made a comment that a woman couldn’t become president.

The conversation, which was caught on a hot mike, went this way:

Warren: I think you called me a liar on national TV.

Sanders: What?

Warren: I think you called me a liar on national TV!

Sanders: You know…let’s not do this now.  If you want to have that discussion, we’ll have that discussion.

Warren:  Anytime.

Sanders: You called me a liar.  You told me…all right, let’s not do it now.

Steyer:  I don’t want to get in the middle.  I just want to say hi Bernie.

Sanders: Yeah good okay.

We don’t know if this will cause a split between the two.

Since both Sanders and Warren are fighting for the same progressive vote, they have an interest in damaging each other rather than Biden.  However, such fights may make it harder for them to join forces later in the campaign.

The Billionaires

Since Trump proved that being rich has its advantages in a presidential campaign, two Democratic candidates, with money to burn, have joined the presidential race – Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer.

Tom Steyer has already spent money to push for Trump’s impeachment.  He has also gone so far as to say the problem goes beyond Trump thanks to corporate money used in campaigns.

Major issues are climate change and the opioid crisis.

Michael Bloomberg is another billionaire and another old guy at 77.  He was mayor of New York for 10 years.  During his term as mayor of New York, he continued a controversial “stop and frisk” policy that lowered crime, but outraged minorities – a major problem for any Democratic candidate.

Bloomberg has been an advocate for gun control and has spent millions in getting gun control candidates elected.  That may help in the Democratic primaries but will cost him votes in the general election.

The Other Candidates

Although many candidates have pulled out of the race, some remain in hopes of being picked for the vice-presidential nomination or to establish themselves for a 2024 run, when Trump can’t run for reelection.

Since both Sanders and Biden are old, there will be a push to nominate a younger, vigorous person for vice president if either of them are nominated.

Pete Buttigieg is the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, which means he may help Democrats win the Midwest.  Democratic strategists are well aware that the heartland of America has become more Republican in recent years.

Buttigieg is the first openly gay Democratic candidate, which has energized the LGBT community, which are enthusiastic donors.  However, there is the question about how effective a gay candidate will be in the more conservative Midwest.

Although he had generated excitement several months ago, his poll numbers have dropped recently.  He may very well be staying in the race in order to be picked for vice president on the ticket.

Amy Klobuchar is a US senator from Minnesota, who is also a long shot looking to fill the vice president part of the ticket.  As a woman, she can balance out a ticket and as a Midwesterner, she can help a Democrat to win Minnesota, which is traditionally Democratic, but is starting to trend towards Trump in the polls.

In the end, Klobuchar is a more promising VP choice, since as a woman she can balance the ticket if Sanders or Biden win the nomination.  She is also more likely to deliver Minnesota to the Democrats than Buttigieg delivering Indiana.

Who will Win the Nomination?

Biden, Sanders and Warren are the most likely nominees, since they all poll nationally in the 20% to 30% range.  However, much depends on the early primaries and who, if any, can build momentum from early primary wins.

Biden has the first shot at building momentum as it appears that he leads in the Iowa caucus poll.  He is also currently leading in New Hampshire, the first primary.

However, if Biden can’t cement his lead and build momentum, Sanders can come back in early March as California holds its primary and Sanders has gained 10 points there in the last month.

If Warren fades, Sanders also can take voters away from her since she is ideologically closer to Sanders than Biden – providing they can patch up their differences from Tuesday’s debate, where the two of them attacked each other.

However, there is still the possibility of a brokered convention.

The Democratic rules make the possibility of a brokered convention more likely than the Republican convention.  Democratic rules call for the delegates to be split according to their candidates’ vote total in the primary, providing they receive at least 15% of the vote.  That gives all three of the top Democratic candidates a good chance of getting delegates in every primary.

Republicans have a “winner take all” primary system that gives the winning candidate all the state’s delegates, which lessens the possibility of a brokered convention where no candidate goes to the convention with more than half the delegates pledged to him.

For example, if California, the biggest Democratic primary prize, had a primary result of 37% for Sanders, 32% for Warren, and 31% for Biden, it’s likely Sanders would get 111 delegates, Warren would get 97, and Biden would get 93 (actual results would also depend on vote totals in specific districts).

Results like that seem to guarantee a brokered convention.

If there is a brokered convention (there hasn’t been one since World War II), Biden is more likely to get the nomination as the Super Delegates, who are part of the Democratic establishment but can’t vote in the first round, are more likely to go for Biden in the second round.  However, don’t count out Sanders and Warren joining forces if they control most delegates.  In that case, one would be the presidential nominee and the other one the vice-presidential nominee.

The General Election

Winning the Democratic nomination for president may end up becoming the poisoned chalice.  Trump’s poll ratings are strong and statewide polls of some states that went for Hillary Clinton in 2016 are moving towards Trump.

Historically, presidents win when they run for reelection.  The only exceptions since World War II are Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush.

Trump has avoided the critical mistakes of these two presidents by making sure an American embassy isn’t captured by protestors and by not raising taxes.

The top three Democratic presidential candidates all have serious weaknesses that could torpedo their campaigns.  Biden is gaff prone and may face Ukrainian corruption issues.  Warren has a minor problem with the perception among some voters of not telling the truth like when she said she was part Native American.  Sanders is old and has health issues.  He, along with Warren are also more liberal than the American electorate.

At this point, it looks like it’s Trump’s election to lose.  The Democrats did not offer a strong set of candidates and none of them stand out as a likely winner against Trump.

That’s why the Democratic candidates are generally so old.  The younger, more promising candidates may figure Trump will win in 2020 and they stand a better chance waiting until 2024.





The U.S. Must Reinforce Its Important Relationship with Oman in 2020

By Luke Coffey

Heritage Foundation

Jan 14, 2020


The United States and Oman share many geopolitical challenges, and have had good relations dating back two centuries. Under the leadership of new Sultan Haitham, U.S.–Omani relations will be entering a new chapter. The Trump Administration should take this new opportunity to build on existing relations by sending a senior delegation led by Vice President Mike Pence to Muscat in the coming days, inviting Sultan Haitham to the White House as soon as mutually convenient, sending a message to Oman’s neighbors that the U.S. does not want any instability during the transition period, and reaffirming Oman as a trustworthy partner in meeting many of the challenges facing the region.

Read more at:




The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same: The Failure of RegimeChange Operations

By Benjamin Denison

Cato Institute

January 6, 2020

Policy Analysis No. 883


The United States has, at various times in its history, used military force to promote regime change around the world in pursuit of its interests. In recent years, however, there has been a growing scholarly consensus that these foreign regime-change operations are often ineffective and produce deleterious side effects. Whether trying to achieve political, security, economic, or humanitarian goals, scholars have found that regime-change missions do not succeed as envisioned. Instead, they are likely to spark civil wars, lead to lower levels of democracy, increase repression, and in the end, draw the foreign intervener into lengthy nation-building projects.

Read more at:




Iran’s Power and Exploiting Its Vulnerabilities

By Seth G. Jones

Center for Strategic and International Studies

January 6, 2020


Following the U.S. killing of Qasem Soleimani, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF), the United States and Iran are involved in an escalating conflict. What is badly needed now is a coherent long-term U.S. strategy to deal with Iran in ways that protect U.S. national security and leverage U.S. partners. The United States’ “maximum pressure” campaign has not led to a change in Iran’s behavior—at least not yet—though U.S. sanctions have severely damaged Iran’s economy. As this report highlights with new data and analysis, the IRGC-QF has supported a growing number of non-state fighters in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Pakistan—including nearly a 50 percent increase since 2016. Thanks to Iran, these forces are better equipped with more sophisticated weapons and systems. This report also uses satellite imagery to identify an expansion of IRGC-QF-linked bases in countries like Iran and Lebanon to train non-state fighters. Iran has constructed more sophisticated and longer-range ballistic and cruise missiles and conducted missile attacks against countries like Saudi Arabia. In addition, Iran has developed offensive cyber capabilities and used them against the United States and its partners. In the nuclear arena, Iran has ended commitments it made to limit uranium enrichment, production, research, and expansion—raising the prospect of Iranian nuclear weapons.

To read more:




Oman After Qaboos: A National and Regional Void

By Simon Henderson

Washington Institute

December 2019



This essay, tenth in the series, covers Oman, a Gulf nation ruled by Sultan Qaboos bin Said since 1970, when he overthrew his own father. Qaboos has enjoyed wide popularity over his five decades in power, helping to build national cohesion and guiding his country into the modern era. But the sultan is seventy-nine years old and has a history of illness. To ensure national stability and continued progress, his successor will have to enact far-reaching economic reforms, aimed especially at broadening the economy beyond its current oil dependence. At the same time, a new sultan will need to navigate challenges posed by powerful neighbors such as Iran, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia.

Read more at:


Week of January 10, 2020

Iran and the United States: Mutual Options


This week, the US killed Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps – Quds Force, at Baghdad’s Airport.

The Pentagon said it was a defensive action taken with the approval of President Trump because further attacks were planned against American targets soon.  The US also said that Soleimani also had approved the attacks on the US Embassy.

The reactions were predictable.  Iran threatened “severe retaliation” against the “criminals” responsible for killing Soleimani.  The Democrats said the killing only heightened tensions in the Middle East.  Meanwhile, President Trump said that Soleimani “should have been taken out years ago.”

Trump decided to escalate rather than matching Iran tit-for-tat. Trump crossed a red line by killing General Soleimani.  American responses in the past have been against “Iranian proxies” or have been economic in general.

The potential for future violence was made clear as oil prices shot up as investors were worried that Iran could shut down the Strait of Hormuz.

So, is the Middle East on the verge of plunging into a major conflict?


US Reaction and Options

In many ways, to Trump and hardliners in this administration (like Pompeo and Esper) the attack on the American Embassy in Baghdad made sense to Iran.  Two of America’s most humiliating defeats in the Middle East have involved American embassies – the takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and the storming of the American diplomatic bases in Benghazi in 2012.  Taking over the Baghdad site would have humiliated the US and likely brought about the defeat of Trump in the upcoming elections, just as the 1979 capture of the US embassy in Tehran led to the defeat of President Carter in 1980.

President Trump isn’t like Presidents Carter or Obama.  Within minutes he had ordered 100 US Marines in Kuwait to Baghdad and put US forces around Baghdad on alert.

In this case, however, the US has made it clear that retaliation will not be limited to economic sanctions or attacks on what being labeled “Iranian proxies”.  The US has shown it is willing to carry out strikes on Iranian officials.  Secretary of Defense Esper has also said additional attacks are in the offing.

“If we get word of attacks,” Esper said, “We will take preemptive action as well to protect American forces, protect American lives.  The game has changed.”

In response to a reporter’s question, Esper responded, “Do I think they might do something? Yes, and they will likely regret it…Our aim is to deter further Iranian bad behavior that has been going on now for over 40 years.”

Although most Democrats have condemned the attack, this attack by the US will only improve Trump’s popularity amongst his supporters primely, Trump after seeing scenes of Iraqis attacking the US Embassy,  he thinks Americans favor any action that prevents such attacks in the future – especially in light of the Benghazi attacks that led to the death of the American Ambassador to Libya.


So, what will America’s response be?

The first action was the ordering one brigade (750 soldiers) from the 82nd Airborne to the Middle East.  Unlike previous deployments in the past, which were generally technicians who supported missile systems and such, the 82nd Airborne is a combat unit that is structured to deploy within hours into a hostile environment.  These are troops trained to fight, not repair and operate radar and missiles.

These forces have already arrived in the Middle East.

Additional soldiers from the Immediate Response Force will be deployed soon.  Reports are that an additional 3,500 troops from the 82nd Airborne will be sent and deployed across the region.  Again, they will be combat forces, not support personnel or technicians.

Other official actions are warning Americans (including American oil workers in Iraq) in the region to leave, hardening American targets, and evacuating non-essential Americans from embassies and consulates.

There is also additional security in American cities like New York.

The US Navy in the area of the Strait of Hormuz will also be repositioning itself.  The aircraft carrier USS Harry Truman (CVN 75) will likely move east of the Strait of Hormuz in order to carry out strikes outside the range of Iranian boats or aircraft.

Smaller ships like destroyers or frigates may be readied to carry out convoy escort duties if Iran tries to harass commercial shipping in the Strait of Hormuz.

A Marine Expeditionary Unit backed up with the USS Bataan (LHD 5) is currently crossing the Atlantic for a deployment in the region.  Once in place, their Marine contingent can deploy across the region within hours.  And, like the troops of the 82nd Airborne, Marines are combat soldiers, not support personnel or technicians.

US Air Force units in the region will be on heightened alert in case they will be needed to support ground forces or shipping the Gulf being attacked.  Air defense systems will also be on the alert for Iranian aircraft of missiles.

Although future American responses are unknown, we can be sure that they may not limit themselves to strikes against “Iranian proxies”.  The US has made it clear that the Iranian command structure is now fair game.


Iranian Options

It seems clear that Iran was taken aback by the ferocity of America’s response to the embassy attack. If it anticipated this sort of attack, Soleimani never would have appeared in person at the Baghdad Airport.

Iran now must devise a response whose outcome is extremely difficult to calculate. There is a significant probability of a major escalation.

Iran well may decide on a limited, symbolic action. However, if it chooses restraint, its prestige in the region will diminish.

Iran has decades of experience in using asymmetrical warfare to fight the US and its allies.  This makes it the most likely option.

However, Iran has already made it clear that it has increased its readiness for conventional warfare.  American made F-14 fighters are patrolling its airspace and its missile command is ready to attack if ordered.

To American war planners, the F-14 is considered no match to advanced US fighters and they haven’t been able to receive F-14 spare parts from America since 1979.  And, the Iranian missile force is extensive, but not all have arsenal has the precision accuracy guidance.

The biggest threat is an Iranian attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz – an economic weapon that threatens the energy independent US less that it does Europe and China.

Undoubtedly the US has more forces in the area of the Strait than Iran does, so an overt closure of the Strait would be unlikely.  However, the use of mines (as they did in the 1980s) and covert attacks like those of a few months ago would raise the risk to commercial shipping and create a jump in energy prices that would slow the world economy.

Iran’s regional strategy rests on a combination of irregular warfare based on allies’ fighters in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and strategic deterrence including intermediate-range missiles and cruise missiles.

One option is to carry out missile attacks via their Yemeni allies.  This has been successful in damaging sites on the Saudi peninsula but has had limited impact on American forces.

The most aggressive course of action is to attack an American asset. In the extreme case, Iran could use a combination of intermediate-range missiles, cruise missiles and drones to attack major American bases like the one in Doha.

The September attack on Aramco facilities in Saudi Arabia exposed the weakness of US air defenses. The Patriot anti-missile system can’t shoot anything flying lower than 60 meters, and Iran has low-flying cruise missiles. A successful strike against Doha certainly figures in American calculations. In late September, US Central Command temporarily moved command and control of the Doha base to a remote facility in Tampa, Florida, because the base is a “sitting duck” for Iranian missiles.

If Iran were to attack Doha, America’s response likely would be extensive. To American military planners, two dozen missiles or bombing sorties could severely damage out Iran’s economy in a matter of hours (a threat implied by Trump statement and Senator Lindsey Gramm). Fewer than a dozen power plants generate 60% of Iran’s electricity, and eight refineries produce 80% of its distillates. A single missile strike could disable each of these facilities, and bunker-buster bombs would destroy them. Without much effort, the US could destroy the Port of Kharg from which Iran exports 90% of its hydrocarbons.

More likely is a limited attack, perhaps on a smaller US naval vessel in the Gulf, or on a smaller US base somewhere in the region. The problem is that Iran would have to inflict enough damage to restore its credibility without inviting massive US retaliation.

Undoubtedly, Iran will respond.  However, their likely response will play to their strengths.  The source of the attacks will be vague enough to cause the US to hesitate about using a military response against Iranian targets.

Of course, not all US and Iranian options are military or economic.  One only must remember the US-Israeli computer viruses used against Iranian nuclear computers to realize that the US can make its response damaging, but hard to respond to.

It seems that US might be miscalculating, they are basing their position on the assumption that when Trump ordered the firing of 50 cruise missiles into Syria, critics said this was a major escalation in the region and threatened the peace.  But nothing serious happened.

Iran enjoys “twisting the Eagle’s tail feathers.” But it doesn’t want events to spiral out of control.  On the other side, President Trump is anxious to pull troops out of the region and isn’t eager to mire the US in another conflict in the region.

Both sides have solid reasons to avoid major escalations to a full-scale war, but no one can guarantee it can be avoided when the missiles start flying.


American Options in the Middle East

So far what looked like the beginning of a full-scale war in the Middle East has suddenly calmed down – except for a few rockets.  A dramatic missile attack by Iran on American bases in Iraq came off according to President Trump without causing a single American casualty, although 22 Iranian missiles were fired.  Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif seemed to signal the end of the current hostilities by calling the attack “proportionate measures in self-defense,” and adding “we do not seek escalation or war but will defend ourselves.”

President Trump also seemed to signal a return to a calmer atmosphere by nearly repeating what Zarif said.  In remarks made at the White House, Trump said, “We do not seek escalation or war, but will defend ourselves against any aggression.”

Although the return to calm is hopeful, both sides signaled that other hostilities might occur in the future.  In his speech, Trump declared, “As long as I’m president of the United States, Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon.”  That implies that sometime in the future Trump will carry out some operation against Iran.

Trump did offer an olive branch by saying “we should work together on this (ISIS) and other shared priorities…We want you to have a future and a great future.”

In the vein of Trump’s comment on Iranian nuclear weapons, Ayatollah Khamenei also intimated this wasn’t the end by saying, “An important incident has happened.  The question of revenge is another issue…Military actions in this form [referring to the missile attack] are not sufficient for that issue.”

In other words, both sides have kept their options open.

So, what are America’s military options in the Middle East?  A lot depends on what American military presence is in the region and what they can do.


The American Military Presence in the Middle East

The American military presence in the Middle East may seem large, but it’s important to see what types of forces are in the region.  In fact, only a small number are considered combat troops.

To better understand this, the American forces can be broken down into three groups.

Combat Troops.  These are combat trained forces that specialize in small unit tactics and can be used to carry out ground attacks on enemy forces or hold American positions that are under heavy attack (like the American embassy).  Only a small number of combat forces were in the region until about two weeks ago.  And, most of them were in Afghanistan.

Technicians.  These are soldiers that maintain weapons systems like air defense, radar, and aircraft.  They can be called upon to defend a base, but aren’t trained for offensive operations.

Support Troops.  These range from medical personnel to supply and transportation.  They are not trained for combat operation.

While all Army and Marine forces are trained for combat, Air Force technicians aren’t.  Naval personnel are trained in carrying out their mission on board ship.

What this means is that the American presence in the region is primarily designed for maintaining weapons systems; aircraft, missile defense systems, cruise missiles, and drones.  There was a small Marine reaction force in Kuwait, until it was dispatched to Baghdad to protect the US Embassy.

The attack on the embassy changed everything.  A brigade of the 82nd Airborne was immediately dispatched to the region and other units of the 82nd are expected to arrive soon.  These are stationed in Kuwait.

About 2,200 Marines of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit were sent to the Middle East from a training exercise in Morocco.  They will remain stationed onboard ships.

In addition, US Rangers from the 75th Ranger Regiment were sent.  Rangers are considered an elite unit.

The 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team has been earmarked for the region, probably to protect the Embassy in Beirut.

By the time all the units reach the Middle East, the American presence will be about 80,000.  And, a greater percentage will be combat troops.  This gives the US more options in terms of response.

As it stands now, the largest US force is in Afghanistan (14,000 troops). This is followed by Kuwait and Qatar, which has about 13,000 troops each.  There are 7,000 in Bahrain, 6,000 in Iraq, 3,000 in Saudi Arabia, 3,000 in Jordan, and 5,000 in the UAE.

US forces at sea total about 5,000.

Syria, which is seeing a drawdown in US forces likely has about 800 American troops.

This doesn’t mean that the US can’t deploy more forces if necessary.  The 101st Airborne Division is also an airmobile rapid reaction force.  There is also heavy equipment like tanks that are prepositioned in the region if necessary.


American Options

Until a week ago, the major American military response option was the use of air power, combat aircraft, drones, or cruise missiles.  The US Air Force could rely upon locally based combat aircraft or bombers stationed in the US.  The Navy would be responsible for any cruise missile attacks as well as aircraft sorties from aircraft carriers in the region.

These attacks would have generally targeted Iranian backed militias in Iraq or Syria.  The US Navy cruise missiles would have targeted areas with more effective air defense systems like Iranian territory.  It would have been cruise missiles that would have probably been used if President Trump had decided to carry out his threat against the Iranian leadership.

Cyber-attacks against the Iranian infrastructure are possible.  However, an American cyber-attack would probably result in an Iranian retaliation on America’s computers.

The other option would have been more aggressive patrolling of the Strait of Hormuz.  This would have used destroyers, frigates, and helicopters to stop and board Iranian shipping.  Small numbers of Marines would have been used for the boarding.

These options were available before the recent deployments to the region.  So, why is the US sending combat troops to the region?

It appears that the US had intelligence that Iranian backed militias would carry out offensive operations against American facilities besides the US Embassy.

The forces sent to the region are combat trained forces that are specialized in inserting into hostile environments.  They would be ideal for landing into an American military base, which is under attack by Iranian backed militias.  Combined with air support, they could hold off any attack.  At the same time, they can bolster security at American facilities not under threat.

This, in part, explains why the Iranian government limited their response.  Although they could have escalated the attacks, they realized that, in the end, they were more vulnerable to American attack than the US was vulnerable to Iranian attack.

Although the US couldn’t have carried out any invasion of Iran, they can carry out major attacks on the Iranian leadership and its nuclear infrastructure.  Sea launched cruise missiles could have punched holes in the Iranian air defense, while American stealth aircraft could have opened a path through Iranian airspace for bombers to attack Iranian nuclear sites.

Meantime, other cruise missiles or drones would have targeted Iran’s command and control.

This is what the Iranian leadership would have feared the most.  They will tolerate attacks on their militias.  They don’t want America to target Iranian leaders.

Although it seems that calm has been restored in the region, it’s important to remember the first words that came out of Trumps mouth when he addressed the nation on Wednesday.  He said, “As long as I’m president of the United States, Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon.”

Unless the US has a method for sabotaging the Iranian nuclear program that implies more military action is to be expected – at some time.

Week of December 20, 2019

Impeaching Trump Threatens Widespread Civil Unrest

The battle for the impeachment, conviction, and removal of Trump from office isn’t only in the Congress.  As the House votes for impeachment, the battle lines are being drawn across the US and the potential for violence is growing.

On Tuesday night, tens of thousands of anti-Trump protestors came together across the nation to push for Trump’s impeachment in the House of Representatives.

Groups opposing to Trump had organized more than 600 events ranging from Florida to Alaska.  However, for all the passion, the gatherings were smaller than other mass protests, possibly due to the last-minute nature of the events.

But this isn’t the only side preparing for mass demonstrations in the streets of the nation.

300,000 motorcycle enthusiasts called “Rolling Thunder” have made it clear that they will roll into Washington DC to save Trump if the Senate trial looks bad for the president.

Dale Herndon, National Director of Bikers for Trump said, “We will ride, if and when the president looks as if he is in danger with some senators flipping,” specifically centrist Republicans, which he calls RINOs (Republicans in Name only).

The group has a sign-up page on Facebook, which has 300,000 members.

The threat of civil unrest isn’t limited to pro-Trump bikers.  In an interview with Fox News, Pastor Robert Jeffress said removing Trump from office would cause a civil war fracture in the US that would never heal.

Oath Keepers, considered a militia group by some was also using the words “civil war.”  Stewart Rhodes, head of Oath Keepers tweeted, “we are on the verge of a hot civil war.”  The twitter account also noted, “the militia (that’s us) can be called forth to execute the laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections, and repel Invasions.”

Representative Louie Gohmert (R. Texas) said a few weeks ago that the Democratic push for impeachment is “about to push this country to a civil war.”  Gohmert spoke right after the vote on the impeachment rules.

“And, if there is one thing I don’t want to see in my lifetime, Gohmert said, “I don’t want to ever have participation in a civil war.  Some historian, I don’t remember who, said guns are only involved in the last phase of a civil war.”

Firearms are a key issue in this debate.  One pro-Trump supporter at a Trump rally in Hersey, PA told CBS News “my .357 Magnum (a heavy caliber revolver) is comfortable with that.  End of story.”

Another person at the same rally said,” There’ll be a lot of mad Americans, possibly 70 to 80 million Americans on the loose – not very happy.”

Since the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms reported last week that Americans own 423 million firearms (about 1.2 per American) and billions of rounds of ammunition, this is a serious threat.  17.7 million of them are modern “assault rifles” like the AR-15 and AK-47 (half of all guns produced in 2017 where these type of firearms).

Given the large number of gun owners in the US and the possibility of civil unrest, any attempt to curb gun ownership is seen as a threat.

In the state of Kentucky, which has a Democratic governor who wants to restrict gun ownership, Harlan County leaders voted to protect gun owners from any attempt by the state or federal government to confiscate firearms.  The measure passed unanimously this week.

Other Kentucky counties are also looking at passing similar laws.

There are also similar anti-gun laws in place in the states of Washington, Oregon, Colorado, and New Mexico.  In the State of Washington, there is a petition being circulated that calls for the impeachment of the Governor and Attorney General of the state due to their efforts to restrict firearms.

However, if there is an epicenter for this firearm “pushback,” it is Virginia, which elected a pro-gun control governor and legislature.  They are looking at passing laws restricting the training of people in firearms usage, gun registration, and making many semi-automatic firearms illegal.  This has outraged the majority of the state.

As of this week, 95 counties, cities, or municipalities have passed resolutions to protect what they believe to be Americans constitutional right to own firearms.  90% of the Virginia counties have joined in.  Other locations are still debating their stances.

This isn’t limited to words.  Tazwell County in Southwest Virginia passed a Second Amendment resolution, but they have also officially begun to form a militia.  The vote was unanimous and received a cheer from the crowd.

County Administrator Eric Young explained that the Virginia Constitution reserves the right to “order” militias to the localities.  Therefore, counties, not the state determine the type of arms that may be carried and by whom.  “So we are ordering the militia by making sure everyone can own a weapon.”

He continued, “Thus, if anyone from the state tries to remove the Sheriff from their elected office because they refuse to enforce unjust laws, those state officials will be faced with a lawful militia composed of citizens of the state.”

There will be training in the county for citizens to make sure everyone is acting safely and responsibility.  However, some of the proposed state legislation will prohibit any paramilitary training.

Of course, pro-firearm laws by localities have upset many at the state and federal level.  State Representative Donald MacEachin said that the governor could call up the National Guard to squelch the rebellion.

MacEachin said, “The governor may have to nationalize the National Guard to enforce the law…That’s his call because I don’t know how serious these counties are and how severe the violations of the law will be.  But that’s obviously an option he has.”

When questioned, the Adjutant of the Virginia National Guard, Major General Timothy Williams, responded vaguely in Twitter, “We will not speculate about the possible use of the Virginia National Guard.”

The events in Virginia aren’t isolated.  Social media and many on the internet have called for support of Virginia gun owners, including travelling to Virginia to help protest.  Undoubtedly some private militias from neighboring states have plans if the situation becomes more serious.

A possible flashpoint is January 20th, which the Virginia Citizens Defense League’s Lobby Day, where gun owners will descend on the capital Richmond to lobby against the proposed legislation.  The league, however, has asked militias to stay away and for anyone attending to follow all laws pertaining to carrying a firearm.

What’s Next?

Although it is impossible to predict a flashpoint, the circumstances are creating several possibilities for a civil war.  Not only have many, including national political leaders, predicted it, several states like Virginia, have pushed confrontation to the limit.

A good example is the unplanned flashpoint for the American Revolutionary War.  Although British troops and American militias had had standoffs that ended peacefully before April 19, 1775, it was the event at Lexington Massachusetts that started the war.  It was a British officer, who had orders to go to Concord to capture a militia arsenal, who left the road to challenge an American militia unit on the Lexington Commons.  The rest, as they say, is history.

The state of Virginia and most Virginia localities are headed for a confrontation.  This confrontation, although about firearm ownership, is also made more volatile by the Trump Impeachment.  No one will admit it, but the fact that there is talk about a civil war means that both sides see firearm ownership as critical in any conflict.

Trump supporters see the threat of a coup to remove a duly elected president and the abrogation of the Second Amendment, which guarantees the ownership of guns.  Democrats see a well-armed America upset with the outcome of the Trump impeachment taking up arms.

While it is easy to see any conflict as being short due to the presence of large, well-armed American military, there are two facts to remember.  First, Americans own over 400 million firearms and billions of rounds of ammunition.  There is no way that all of them can be found and confiscated.

Second, a large military doesn’t always guarantee success.  Just ask the Russians and Americans about Afghanistan.